Need another reason to try eating more plant-based meals? A new study suggests that replacing animal proteins with plant-based options such as nuts and beans (also called legumes) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and premature death, according to the study results published in BMC Medicine.
For the study, researchers examined data collected over nearly 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 rich 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 lifestyles that often accompany this typical diet Western,” says Samantha Heller. , RD, a clinical dietitian in New York City, who was not involved in the new study.
“In addition, compounds in red and processed meats increase the risk for 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. he adds.
Swapping out red and processed meats makes the biggest impact
In the study, scientists looked at the benefits of exchanging different animal proteins for different plant-based options after considering other factors that could influence the risk of certain diseases or premature death, such as smoking, drinking , consume too many calories, or get too little exercise.
Substitutions involving red and processed meat seemed to make the biggest difference, the study 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, swapping a serving of red or processed meat for nuts, legumes or whole grains was linked to a 23 percent to 36 percent lower risk of heart disease. Eating nuts instead of red or processed meat was also linked to an 8 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
A limitation of the analysis is that portions varied across the smaller studies examined, making it difficult to offer guidance on specific serving sizes to consume when making dietary changes.
The benefits of a plant-based diet
The new study was not yet designed to show whether or how replacing animal proteins with plant-based options could directly prevent disease or help people live longer.
However, it is possible that eating more plant-based meals has positive health effects because these foods contain a lot of fiber, fatty acids and so-called phytochemicals that can help reduce inflammation, improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol and slow down the weight gain. , says Yang Hu, ScD, 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 in particular could be a good type of animal protein to replace.
“Red meat has been known to be very harmful for cardiovascular health 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. It definitely conveys more health benefits on cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Hu, who was not involved in the new study.
If a major diet overhaul feels too daunting to try, it can be a good start to try replacing red and processed meat with healthier animal protein sources like poultry and seafood, Hu advises. “Poultry consumption is less associated with chronic diseases and fish is a very good source for obtaining omega-3 fatty acids that are widely known for their cardioprotective effects,” says Hu.
Even just limiting meats and cured meats can help, says Maya 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 meats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.”
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