Heart of the Matter – Busting the Biggest Diet Myths
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Including nuts and seeds in your diet is good for your heart and may even reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, new research has suggested
Thursday 12 April, 2018
By June Shannon
The study, by an international team of researchers in the US and France, found that people who ate a large amount of meat had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) while those who consumed large amounts of their protein from nuts and seeds reduced their risk.
The researchers examined data from more than 81,000 people in this study and it 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 co-principal investigator Dr Gary Fraser, from Loma Linda University in the US.
He added that he and his colleagues had long suspected that including nuts and seeds in the diet protected against heart and vascular disease, while red meats increased risk.
This new evidence suggests that the full picture probably also involves the biological effects of proteins in these foods
Dr Fraser said that nutritionists had 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.
He said the team’s research differed in another significant way from previous investigations. While prior studies have examined differences between animal and plant proteins, this study did not stop at just two categories, but chose to specify meat protein and proteins from nuts and seeds along with other major dietary sources.
According to the researchers, the study leaves other questions open for further investigation, such as the particular amino acids in meat proteins that contribute to CVD and whether proteins from particular sources affect cardiac risk factors such as blood lipids, blood pressure and overweight, which are associated with CVD.
We don’t need to avoid meat as part of a balanced healthy diet
Commenting Sarah Noone, dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation said that while protein was essential for a healthy diet, eating protein did not necessarily have to mean eating meat.
She also said there was growing evidence that replacing animal proteins (such as meat) with more plant-based proteins (pulses, nuts and grains) can benefit health.
“However, we don’t need to avoid meat as part of a balanced healthy diet, but it does encourage us to think about the source and how much we are consuming. Notably the food pyramid emphasises that plant- based foods such as fruit, vegetables and salad should make up the largest proportion of our diet or half our plates,” Sarah explained.
She added that switching some of the animal protein in our diets to protein-containing plants could translate to improvements in health as diets richer in plants were associated with lower risks of conditions such as obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure.
“However, simply removing meat from the diet isn’t a fast track to heart health. Many foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar which we recommend to limit as part of a heart healthy diet will not be meat based options.”
“Whether you eat meat or not, diets linked to good heart health have lots of vegetables, fruit, salads, whole grains, pulses and oily fish, has modest amounts of oils, low fat dairy and meat and low intakes of foods high in fat, salt and sugar,” she concluded.
This study was published recently in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
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