New York: Replacing red meat with high-quality plant foods such as beans, nuts, or soy may be linked to a modestly reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), say researchers.
The study, published in the journal the BMJ, suggests that substituting whole grains and dairy products for total red meat, and eggs for processed red meat, might also reduce this risk.
Substantial evidence suggests that high consumption of red meat, especially processed red meat, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages and salami, is associated with an increased risk of death and major chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease.
For the current study, a team of US researchers examined the relationship between total, processed, and unprocessed red meat and risk of CHD and estimate the effects of substituting other protein sources for red meat with CHD risk.
Their findings are based on data from 43,272 US men (average age 53) from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free from cardiovascular disease and cancer when they enrolled.
Medical records were used to track CHD events (fatal and non-fatal) over this 30-year period. During this time, 4,456 CHD events were documented of which 1,860 were fatal.
After taking account of other cardiovascular disease risk factors, the researchers found that for everyone serving per day, total red meat was associated with a modest (12 per cent) higher risk of CHD.
"Similar associations were seen for unprocessed (11 per cent higher risk) and processed red meat (15 per cent higher risk)," said study authors.
However, compared with red meat, intake of one serving per day of combined plant protein sources, including nuts, legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils), and soy was associated with a 14 per cent lower risk of CHD.
This risk was lower still (18 per cent) among men over the age of 65, and when compared with processed red meat (17 per cent).
Substituting whole grains and dairy products (such as milk, cheese and yoghurt) for total red meat and eggs for processed red meat were also associated with lower CHD risk.
This association was particularly strong among younger men, in whom the replacement of red meat with egg was associated with a 20 per cent lower risk of CHD.
"These findings are consistent with the effects of these foods on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and support a health benefit of limiting red meat consumption and replacement with plant protein sources," the authors noted.