West Lafayette, IN, and Boston, MA–Replacing red meat with healthy plant proteins may lead to a decrease in risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by researchers at Purdue University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The meta-analysis, which was published in Circulation, included data from 36 randomized controlled trials involving 1,803 participants. Researchers looked at blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoproteins, and blood pressure in red meat eaters and in people who ate more of other types of foods, such as chicken, fish, carbohydrates, or plant proteins such as legumes, soy, or nuts.
The study revealed 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 researchers noted that substituting red meat with high-quality plant protein sources, but not with fish or low-quality carbohydrates, leads to more favorable changes in blood lipids and lipoproteins.
“Asking ‘Is red meat good or bad’ is useless,” lead author Marta Guasch-Ferré said in a press release. “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 study authors recommend healthy vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets for both health benefits and environmental sustainability.