This month two strong studies show that 1) giving people with heart disease a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat is more effective than taking statin drugs in preventing heart attack deaths, and 2) eating red meat regularly increases risk for death from a heart attack.
Eating Plants and Avoiding Red Meat to Treat Heart Disease
In the first study, researchers followed 1,200 people with a history of heart attacks, strokes or blocked arteries for seven years and found that people suffering from heart problems were 37 percent less likely to die if they ate a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and oils, compared to those who ate red meat and butter regularly (The Moli-sani study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, August 29, 2016). The plant-based diet was more effective than statin drugs in preventing deaths during the study period.
Eating Red Meat Regularly Increases Risk for Death from a Heart Attack
In the second study of 74,645 Swedish men and women, those who ate red meat (meat from mammals) regularly were 29 percent more likely to die from a heart attack and 21 percent more likely to die from any cause during the study period, compared to those who restricted meat (Am J Clin Nutr, published online Aug 24, 2016).
More Data on Plants vs Meat
Other studies show that taking in fewer than five servings per day of fruits and vegetables is associated with progressively higher death rates (Am J Clin Nutr, Aug 2013;98(2):454-9). Many studies show that red meat is associated with increased risk for death from all causes, cancers, and heart attacks (PLoS One, 2013;8(2):e56963). Substituting one serving per day of other foods (including fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, dairy and whole grains) for one serving per day of red meat was associated with a seven to 19 percent lower death risk. The authors also estimated that 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent in women during the follow–up period could be prevented if they consumed less than half a serving of red meat per day.
A study with 2.96 million person–years followed 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow–Up Study and 83,644 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (JAMA Internal Medicine, 04/10/2012). Participants had no heart disease or cancer at the start of the study. Each serving per day of red meat increased:
• overall death rate by 13 percent,
• cancer death rate by 10 percent and
• heart attack death rate by 18 percent.
Each serving per day of processed meat increased:
• death rate by 20 percent,
• cancer death rate by 16 percent, and
• heart attack death rate by 21 percent.
A study of 134,000 Chinese adults shows that adhering to the dietary guidelines of restricting red and processed meat and eating lots of fruits and vegetables, markedly reduced the death rate during the study period, particularly from heart attacks (Am J Clin Nutr, Aug 2014;100(2):693-700). Another study in a U.S. multiethnic population showed that a high plant, red-meat-restricted diet is associated with lower risk of death from all causes, heart attacks and cancers (Am J Clin Nutr, Mar 2015;101(3):587-97.
• I believe that everyone should follow a diet that includes plenty of plants: fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and other seeds; and restricts red meat (meat from mammals). See my report on Anti-Inflammatory and Pro-Inflammatory Foods.
• If you are overweight or store fat primarily in your belly, you should avoid refined carbohydrates: added sugars and foods made with flour from any source.
• These guidelines are particularly important if you already have diabetes, heart disease or cancer.