Substituting the red meat in your diet with healthy plant proteins may be an effective way to decrease cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, finds a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal Circulation.
The study is the first meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials examining the health effects of red meat by substituting it for other specific types of foods.
"Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. But our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors," said Marta Guasch-Ferré, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study.
The study found that when diets with red meat were compared with all other types of diets combined, there were no significant differences in total cholesterol, lipoproteins, or blood pressure, although diets higher in red meat did lead to higher triglyceride concentrations than the comparison diets. However, researchers found that diets higher in high-quality plant protein sources such as legumes, soy, and nuts resulted in lower levels of both total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol compared to diets with red meat.
The results are consistent with long-term epidemiologic studies showing lower risks of heart attacks when nuts and other plant sources of protein are compared to red meat, the authors said. The findings also suggest that the inconsistencies found in prior studies regarding the effects of red meat on cardiovascular risk factors may be due, in part, to the composition of the comparison diet. They recommended that future studies take specific comparisons into account.
"Asking 'Is red meat good or bad?' is useless," said Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and senior author of the study. "It has to be 'Compared to what?' If you replace burgers with cookies or fries, you don't get healthier. But if you replace red meat with healthy plant protein sources, like nuts and beans, you get a health benefit."
The authors recommended adherence to healthy vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets, both for their health benefits and to promote environmental sustainability.