Although most people associate coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading cause for heart attacks, with men, over 200,000 women die from it each year. That’s more than five times the number of women who die from breast cancer, making coronary heart disease the number one cause of death in women.
A recent study conducted by researchers discovered not only that a high consumption of red meat increased the risk of CHD, but also that substituting red meat for an alternate protein source reduced the risk. Analyzing data from the Nurses’ Health Study, the researchers looked at diets of 84,316 women, 30 to 55 years of age, who initially did not have any known history of cancer, diabetes, angina, myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, or other cardiovascular disease. After 26 years of follow-up, the analysis revealed that women with the highest intake of red meat (average 2.1 servings per day) were 29% more likely to have a heart attack or other CHD-related event compared to women with the lowest intake of red meat (about a half serving per day), even after controlling for risk factors like age and smoking. An increased risk of CHD remained whether or not the researchers excluded processed meats, like hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon, from the analysis.
Women with the highest consumption of high-fat dairy (3 servings per day) also had an increased risk of CHD compared to women with the lowest consumption (about a third of a serving per day). Conversely, those who had higher intakes of beans, fish, and especially nuts, respectively, had a lower risk of CHD compared to women with lower intakes of these alternate protein sources.
The researchers furthered their analysis by also determining how the risk would change if one serving of red meat was replaced by one serving of another protein source. Independent of calorie intake, replacing one serving of meat per day decreased the risk of CHD by:
- 13% if replaced with low-fat dairy
- 19% if replaced with poultry
- 24% if replaced with fish
- 30% if replaced with nuts
To incorporate these substitutions in your diet, focus on the healthiest versions of these alternate protein sources by keeping these suggestions in mind:
- Remove the skin from your poultry.
- Stick to grilled, baked, or broiled versions of chicken, turkey, and fish. Avoid fried.
- Keep sodium low by substituting a portion of red meat with unsalted nuts. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are great choices for their healthy fats and fiber.
- Make it an adventure! Internet surf to find new recipes to try at home using beans, tofu, fish, or poultry.
- Be prepared. Check out the menu before going to the restaurant so you have plenty of time to choose a meat-free option.
- Go meat-free one day per week. Commit and join the “Meatless Mondays” movement.