Doctors long surmised that patients who consume plant foods primarily were healthier than those who ate meat. While this was anecdotal in nature, recent research now confirms it.
In a study, researchers found that people who substituted red meat for plant-based foods had better heart health. In particular, they discovered that eating foods such as beans, nuts, or soy may reduce coronary heart disease (CHD). Furthermore, swapping whole grains and dairy foods for total red meat, and eggs for processed red meat, may also reduce the risk.
Previous studies have found that eating large quantities of red meat, especially processed red meat, is associated with early death and chronic disease. In particular, processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and salami may lead to the development of diseases such as CHD.
In prior studies that show inconsistent results, they often failed to compare red meat with other similar protein sources. To avoid these problems in the current study, the US research team analyzed total, processed, and unprocessed red meat. They then studied how various meats impacted CHD risk and estimated the effects of swapping other proteins for red meat.
Researchers based their findings on data from 43,272 men with an average age of 53 from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They had no cardiovascular disease or cancer when they signed up for the study. All participants filled out a comprehensive diet questionnaire starting in 1986 and every four years afterward. In the questionnaires, they provided detailed information on their medical history and personal lifestyles.
The researchers also pulled their medical records to observe CHD instances, both fatal and non-fatal, over the 30-year study period. Over the years, scientists recorded 4,456 CHD events, 1,860 of which were fatal.
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY ON EATING MEAT VERSUS PLANT FOODS
After taking into account other CHD risk factors, researchers discovered that:
- every serving of total red meat per day led to a modest (12%) higher risk of CHD;
- every serving of unprocessed red meat had an 11% higher risk;
- processed red meat led to a 15% higher risk of developing CHD
However, consuming one serving per day of plant proteins such as nuts, legumes, or soy resulted in a 14% lower CHD risk. The risk decreased even more among men over the age of 65 to 18%, compared to eating processed meat (17%).