Protein in red meat, dairy linked to heart problems

February 16, 2005 in Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Protein in red meat, dairy linked to heart problems

Results from a recent study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology suggest older women who eat a relatively large quantity of protein from red meat or dairy products may have an elevated risk of dying from heart disease.

Researchers say these findings call into question the long-term safety of high-protein diets -- at least the ones that don't distinguish the protein from different food sources -  such as steak and cream from that in tofu and nuts.

Researchers found that among more than 29,000 postmenopausal women, those who reported the highest intake of protein from red meat and dairy products had a roughly 40 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease over the next 15 years compared with women with the lowest intake of these foods.

According researchers the risk seems to be linked to the protein intake itself because her group considered the subjects' overall diet -- including intake of fat, fiber and total calories -- as well as factors such as exercise, smoking and body weight.

While high protein diets have been shown to spur weight loss and dips in blood cholesterol in the short term, many experts worry that if people stick with such a menu over time, it could spell trouble for the blood vessels and heart. Although this new study looked at women's normal protein intake -- and not high-protein, low-carb diets -- researchers suggest it does have implications for adherents to those weight-loss plans.

Researchers encourage people to recognize that not all proteins are equal. More healthful protein choices, according to researchers, include fish and chicken, which were not linked to heart disease mortality in this study.

Better yet are vegetable protein sources, such as beans, nuts, tofu and peanut butter. This study found that women with the highest intakes of these foods had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease death than women with the lowest intakes.

In contrast, the findings indicate that a woman who opts for two servings of red meat every day instead of a similar number of calories from carbs would have a 44 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease over the next 15 years. A similar pattern emerged when the researchers looked at a variety of dairy foods, including milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt and cheese.

According to researchers the exact reason as to why protein from red meat and dairy products might boost heart risks is unclear, although it is possible that factors not captured in this study could explain the association.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.