Plant Protein And Dairy Can Improve Heart Health More Than Red Meat


  • Contrary to popular belief, plant protein and protein from dairy products are better for heart compared to protein from red meat.
  • Replacing animal-based protein with plant-based protein can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
  • Protein from red meat can also be replaced with nuts and dairy products.
  • Eating red meat can cause many health issues from which one can save himself/herself by simply obtaining protein from plant-based sources.
  • This article explores various vegetarian and vegan food items that are rich in protein, along with the amount of protein they have to offer. It quotes two medical researches, along with medical experts to authenticate many findings that recommend plant-based protein over animal-based proteins.

Many people take pride in eating non-vegetarian food claiming that it has more protein as well as nutrition. However, the two most important organs in human body are heart and brain. And for these two organs, vegetarian food is best. Two new preliminary studies claim that for heart, protein from plant products is better.

Both of these studies have been presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2020.

Lower Disease Risk

Reducing the consumption of red meat definitely saves you from many diseases because once an animal or bird dies, its body has many types of bacteria, germs, or other organisms that do not die by heating. Also, when an animal has a fear of death before slaughter, after its slaughter, a person eating red meat also eats the hormones that the animal might have secreted in its body during the slaughter.

The first study concluded that American people who got more of their calories from plant-based food sources were less likely to die from any cause. They were also less likely to die specifically of coronary artery disease.

Zhilei Shan, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said:

“People should consider replacing animal protein sources such as red and processed meat with healthy plant proteins such as nuts, legumes, and whole grains.”

Using data from eight National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cycles from 1999 to 2014, the researchers conducting this study examined the association between eating habits and health outcomes for more than 37,000 people in the USA with an average age of 50.

People eating plant protein mostly were 27% less likely to die of any cause. Compared to people who ate the least amount of plant protein, people mostly eating plant protein were also 29% less likely to die of coronary heart disease. Researchers used caloric information to successfully estimate the life expectancy of samples and draw this conclusion. They replaced just 5% of daily calories from animal protein with the same amount of plant protein. They saw that people could decrease their risk of any cause mortality coronary heart disease by 50%. The researchers also concluded that even replacement of 2% of calories in animal proteins with plant-based alternatives was associated with a 32% lower risk of death.

Substituting Meat Protein With Nuts And Dairy

Presented at the American Heart Association conference, a second study drew similar conclusions. In this study, the researchers found that men could drastically lower their risk of coronary heart disease by substituting a single serving of red meat or processed meat with vegetarian foods such as dairy, legumes, nuts, or whole grains. This study focused on substituting meat protein with nuts and dairy products.

Laila Al-Shaar, PhD, a lead study author and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s cardiovascular epidemiology program, said:

“Our findings support current recommendations, to limit consumption of red meat, and suggest that high quality plant-based proteins (such as nuts, legumes, soy) are good alternatives for those planning to cut down their red meat intake.”

Al-Shaar and her team analyzed data from 43,000 men from between 1986 and 2010 who participated in Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. During that time, participants filled questionnaires about their diet in every 4 years.

The researchers found different protective effects that depended on the replacement for red meat. For example, replacing a daily serving of red meat with an equivalent number of calories from nuts could reduce the risk of dying from heart attack by 17%. Similarly, replacing one daily serving of red meat with whole grains could lower the risk of dying from heart attack by 48%.

One may say that to reduce red meat, one needs to find alternatives for red meat in the form of vegetarian food. It is possible.

Red Meat Can Cause Health Issues

With both studies explaining how and why plant-based sources of protein were better than red meat, the health issues that red meat can cause became clear in the mind of reader. Talking about plant-based alternatives of protein, Dr. Satjit Bhusri, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City (NYC), said:

“The tides are turning on red meat and especially processed red meat. Plant-based protein is what we are seeing as more natural and do not need to go through an intermediary animal before we eat the protein.”

Saying that the findings of the two studies were “not at all surprising”, Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Ohio, said:

“Over the past decade, there have been multiple studies showing that more plants in the diet often equates to greater longevity through decreased chronic disease risk and inflammation. In particular, plant-based diets have been proven to be the best option for reducing the risk of heart disease.”

Despite the health risks, the number of Americans eating red meat was high. This also included those who ate processed meats that were packed with salt and preservatives. Meat consumption in the USA hit an all-time high in 2018. However, the studies noticed that there were signs of trend of eating red meat slowing down.

The major health-related disorders that consumption of red meat can cause include digestive issues, heart disease, kidney problems, and early mortality. The type of cancers that consumption of red meat can cause include bowel cancer and stomach cancer.

Vegetarian Food Items Rich In Protein

Meat producing companies and media influencers affiliated with them often downplay the ingredients of vegetarian food rich in protein and make people believe that are no vegetarian food items that are rich in protein. However, in this article, we can talk about many vegetarian food items that are rich sources of protein.

Seitan is a rich source of protein as it contains 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). Hempseed contains 10 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams) that is easily digestible. The green peas contain 9 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml). That is slightly more than a cup of milk.

Another rich source of protein is Soybeans from which Edamame, Tempeh, and Tofu have originated. All of these three products contain iron, calcium, and 10-19 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). Lentils offer 18 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml).

Along with many variety of beans, Chickpeas, which also known as garbanzo beans, is a legume with a high protein content. Black beans, Kidney beans, pinto beans, and most other varieties of beans contain high amounts of protein per serving. Both beans as well as chickpeas contain about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml).

Defined as a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, nutritional yeast is sold commercially as a yellow powder or flakes. It can provide 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce (28 grams). Spelt and teff belong to a grain category known as ancient grains. Spelt is a type of wheat that contains gluten. On the other hand, being gluten-free, teff originates from an annual grass. Spelt and teff provide 10–11 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml). This makes them higher in protein, compared to other ancient grains that are barley, einkorn, farro, and sorghum.

Two tablespoons (30 ml) of spirulina can provide 8 grams of complete protein to a person. It also covers 22% of daily requirements of iron and thiamin by a human body, along with 42% of daily copper needs. Unlike other cereals, amaranth and quinoa do not grow from grasses like other cereal grains do.

They can provide 8–9 grams of protein per cooked cup (240 ml). Oats and oatmeal can add protein to any diet. Half a cup (120 ml) of dry oats provides 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Wild rice contains approximately 1.5 times as much protein as other long-grain rice varieties. Such varieties include basmati and brown rice. One cooked cup (240 ml) of wild rice provides 7 grams of protein. Chia seeds have got their name from Salvia hispanica plant that is native to Mexico and Guatemala. They offer 6 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per 1.25 ounces (35 grams).

Many breads made from sprouted grains, especially ezekiel bread, are rich in protein. Ezekiel bread is made from organic, sprouted whole grains and legumes. These grains include barley, millet, wheat, and spelt. They also include soybeans and lentils. Two slices of Ezekiel bread contain approximately 8 grams of protein. That is slightly more than the protein amount in an average bread.

Milk made from soybeans and fortified with vitamins and minerals called soymilk. It is a great alternative to cow’s milk. Apart from containing 7 grams of protein per cup (240 ml), it is also an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Nuts, seeds and their derived products such as nut butter are great sources of protein. Depending on the nut and seed variety, one ounce (28 grams) contains of any product derived from these offers 5–7 grams of protein.

Fruits And Vegetables Rich In Protein

Although, protein is available in all fruits and vegetables, the amount of this nutrient always varies. Some vegetables that have more protein than other vegetables include artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, spinach, and sweet potatoes.

Compared to vegetables, fresh fruits have less proteins. However, fruits offering maximum protein content include bananas, blackberries, cherimoyas, guava, mulberries, and nectarines. These fruits have about 2–4 grams of protein per cup.

All the food items mentioned in this section (and its sub-section) of the article are rich not only in protein but in many other nutrients as well. Such nutrients include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and roughages.

It is true that consumption of red can provide many nutrients. However, none of those nutrients are unavailable in vegetarian food. One can always find plant-based substitute for every nutrient that red meat provides. Minus the health problems that the consumption of red meat can cause. Therefore, be aware! Maximize vegetarian sources of protein in your diet and you live a healthy life.