replacing meat with plant protein reduces cardiovascular risk factors

The science consistently says that meat increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  But is it true? And, if you cut out the meat, what should you replace it with?

The problem with a lot of dietary research is that it compares eating meat to not eating meat without asking what the meat is being replaced with. As bad as the research results have been for meat, this neglect has resulted in a research profile that is more sympathetic to meat even than it should be. If you replace red or processed meat with another food that is bad, eliminating meat won’t look as good as if you replace the meat with something that is good.

So, researchers conducted a meta-analysis and systematic review of thirty-six studies comparing diets that replaced red meat with a variety of different foods. They compared what happens to cardiovascular risk factors when you replace red meat with plant proteins (like soy and other legumes, nuts and other plant proteins), with chicken/poultry/fish, with fish only, with poultry only, with mixed animal sources including dairy and with refined carbohydrates.

Because most of the replacement diets were also bad for your heart, there was no significant difference for heart health between the red meat diet and the replacement diets when they were combined for any cardiovascular risk factor except that red meat was still worse for triglycerides. But, when the replacement diets were analyzed one by one, a totally different picture emerged. When red meat was replaced with plant protein, the red meat diet led to significantly lesser improvements in total cholesterol and the heart harmful LDL cholesterol.

This much more careful diet shows that eliminating red meat is beneficial. But only if you replace it with something that is better for you. When red meat is replaced by plant protein, your cardiovascular risk factors improve significantly.

The diet is not improved when red meat is replaced by fish only (meat was better for total- and LDL-cholesterol but worse for HDL cholesterol) or by poultry or by fish and poultry combined (meat was better for cholesterol but worse for triglycerides).

This study is consistent with an earlier study that focussed on fats. Like the current study, it looked at what happens when you replaced saturated fats from animal sources with a variety of different kinds of fats. And, like the current study, it found that replacing animal foods with plant foods produced positive health changes. It found that just replacing 5% of saturated fats with the equivalent amount of polyunsaturated fats is associated with a whopping 27% reduction in risk of overall mortality. Replacing the same amount of saturated fat with monounsaturated fat reduces the risk of overall mortality by 13%.

Combined, these studies add to the overwhelming evidence that switching from an animal based diet to a vegetarian diet is good for your health.


Circulation 2019;139:1828–1845


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For lots more on healthy, delicious vegetarian eating, see Linda's book, The All-New Vegetarian Passport: a comprehensive health book and cookbook all in one.

 The Natural Path is intended for educational purposes only and is in no way intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. For health problems, consult a qualified health practitioner for a comprehensive program.

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