Alternatives for Red Meat

Swapping red meat for other proteins could improve heart health. By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Red meat can certainly fit into a well-balanced diet. But eating it every day—especially if you’re choosing processed options like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs—can increase your chances of poor health, including heart disease.

Luckily, alternatives for red meat can lower that risk by simply swapping out some red meat in the diet for plant-based protein foods. That’s according to a study published by Harvard University researchers in the BMJ. Using data from more than 43,000 men (average age 53) from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, researchers found that the risk for heart disease increased by 12% over a 30-year time frame when subjects consumed one serving of red meat (processed or unprocessed) per day. The risk rose to 15% for a daily serving of processed red meat.

By contrast, the risk for heart problems fell by 14% when subjects ate less red meat in favor of high-quality plant proteins like beans, nuts, and soy. This risk was lower still (18%) among men over the age of 65.

The research also found that replacing any kind of red meat with whole grains and dairy products (like yogurt and milk) and substituting eggs for processed red meat might be other ways to lessen the risk. Swapping red meat for fish was not beneficial. But this could have been due to cooking methods (i.e., deep frying) and the fact that, on the questionnaire, the fish group included processed products, like fish sticks, as well as fresh fish.

Benefits from the recommended substitutions are likely multifaceted, including decreasing saturated fats and increasing unsaturated fat, fiber, and antioxidants in the diet. The study authors believe reducing red meat consumption to a couple of times per week and making substitutions on other days would go a long way to keeping the ticker beating strong.

See also: Less Red Meat, Lower Diabetes Risk

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