Need another reason to try eating more plant-based meals? A new study suggests that replacing animal protein with plant-based options like nuts and beans (also called legumes) is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and premature death, according to the results of a study published in BMC Medicine.
For this study, researchers examined data collected over roughly two decades on eating habits and health outcomes for hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, Europe and Asia who participated in 37 different smaller studies. In particular, the scientists wanted to see what types of dietary changes could have the greatest impact on health and longevity.
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A diet high in animal foods is problematic because of the saturated fat content, which affects cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health, the way these foods are processed and prepared, and the lifestyle that often accompanies this typical Western-style diet, says Samantha Heller, RD. , a clinical dietitian in New York, who was not involved in the new study.
In addition, compounds in red and processed meat increase the risk of certain cancers, dysregulate the gut microbiome, increase internal inflammation and have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline and death, Heller adds.
Replacing red and processed meat has the biggest impact
In the study, scientists looked at the benefits of swapping out different animal proteins for different plant-based options after taking into account other factors that could affect the risk of certain diseases or premature death, such as smoking, drinking, consuming too many calories or gaining weight. too little exercise.
Substitutions involving red and processed meat appeared to make the biggest difference, the research found.
For example, replacing a serving of processed meat with nuts was associated with a 21 percent lower risk of premature death from all causes.
Similarly, replacing a serving of red or processed meat with nuts, legumes or whole grains is associated with a 23 to 36 percent lower risk of heart disease. Eating nuts instead of red or processed meat was also associated with an 8 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
One limitation of the analysis is that portions varied across the smaller studies examined, making it difficult to provide guidance on specific portion sizes to consume when making dietary changes.
Benefits of a plant-based diet
The new study also wasn’t designed to prove whether or how replacing animal protein with plant-based options could directly prevent disease or help people live longer.
However, eating more plant-based meals may have positive health effects because these foods are high in fiber, fatty acids, and so-called phytochemicals, all of which can help reduce inflammation, improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and slow weight gain. , says Yang Hu, PhD, a research scientist in the department of nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston. There is also good reason that red meat might be a good type of animal protein to substitute.
It is known that red meat is very harmful to the health of the cardiovascular system due to its high content of saturated fat, cholesterol, heme iron, sodium and nitrates/nitrites, so reducing the intake of red meat while increasing the same amount of healthy plant foods would definitely bring greater health benefits to cardiovascular health, says Dr. Hu, who was not involved in the new study.
If a big dietary change seems too daunting to attempt, trying to replace red and processed meat with healthier sources of animal protein like poultry and seafood can be a good start, Hu advises. Poultry consumption is less associated with chronic disease, and fish is a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are widely known for their cardioprotective effects, Hu says.
Even just limiting cold cuts and deli meats can help, says Maia Vadiveloo, PhD, RD, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, who was not involved in the new study. I think the most beneficial meat to replace is processed meat (including deli meat), as there is strong evidence that processed meat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
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