NUTRITION
April 18, 2018

Not All Protein Is Created Equal

Get most of your protein from vegetables and legumes, and your risk of cardiovascular disease goes way down.

You’ve probably heard that some fats are better for you than others. The same is true for protein. The protein in vegetables, legumes and nuts is better for your body than the protein in meat. In fact, eating less meat and more nuts will give you the beneficial fats and proteins that can reduce your risk of heart disease nearly in half, a study finds.

Over 81,000 Seventh-day Adventists took part in the study, which lasted for five years. The Seventh-day Adventist church encourages members to eat a balanced vegetarian diet, and about half of its members do. The men and women who took part in the study were between the ages of 25 and 44. They answered questions about the foods they ate on a regular basis.

People whose protein came from a diet of mostly meat protein had a 60 percent higher risk of developing heart disease.

The American and French researchers followed the participants for nine years. They examined participants' diets and the details surrounding the deaths of the over 2,700 participants who died as a result of cardiovascular disease during the course of the study.

When a person's main source of protein came from nuts and seeds, he or she had a 40 percent lower risk of having heart disease. Participants whose dietary protein was mostly from meat had a 60 percent higher risk of developing heart disease. No link to heart disease was found with other foods such as processed foods, grains, fruits, vegetables or legumes.

The bad fats in meat contribute to heart disease while the good fats in nuts offer protection. That may not, however, be the full story: the biological effects of the proteins in plant and animal foods may also be a factor.

Eating a wide variety of nuts in small quantities every day will lower LDL, the bad cholesterol, said Gary Fraser, a researcher at Loma Linda University in California. He suggests eating 10 to 14 mixed nuts a day.

It is still not entirely clear what the role of proteins in cardiovascular disease is. Do certain amino acids in meat proteins increase the risk of heart disease? Or is it that proteins from certain foods play a role in the risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, blood lipids and weight? These questions will, hopefully, be answered after future research.

In the meantime, do your heart a favor — eat less meat and keep a variety of nuts on hand for snacking. Treat yourself to a small handful every day, and eat more protein that comes from plant-based sources..

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
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