Variety of nuts
Variety of nuts

Meat protein causes sharp increased risk of heart disease while protein from nuts and seeds is beneficial for the human heart, this is according to a new study conducted by researchers in California and France.

The study titled “Patterns of plant and animal protein intake are strongly associated with cardiovascular mortality: The Adventist Health Study-2 cohort,” was a joint project of researchers from Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California and AgroParisTech and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris, France.

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The study, which was published online this week by the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who consumed large amounts of meat protein experienced a 60-percent increase in cardiovascular disease (CVD), while people who consumed large amounts of protein from nuts and seeds experienced a 40-percent reduction in CVD.

The study included data from more than 81,000 participants, and is one of the few times detailed sources of animal protein have been examined jointly with animal fat in a major investigation.

“While dietary fats are part of the story in affecting risk of cardiovascular disease, proteins may also have important and largely overlooked independent effects on risk,” said one of the co-principal investigators in the study Gary Fraser (MB, ChB, PhD).

He added that he and his colleagues have long suspected that including nuts and seeds in the diet protects against heart and vascular disease, while red meat increases risk.

Fraser added that nutritionists have traditionally looked toward what he termed “bad fats” in meats and “helpful fats” in nuts and seeds as causal agents. However, these new findings suggest more.

“This new evidence suggests that the full picture probably also involves the biological effects of proteins in these foods,” he said.

Fraser, however, said that the study leaves other questions open for further investigation, such as the particular amino acids in meat proteins that contribute to CVD. Another is whether proteins from particular sources affect cardiac risk factors such as blood lipids, blood pressure and overweight, which are associated with CVD.