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Plant-based meat substitutes are better for your heart than regular meat

Plant-based meat substitutes are better for your heart than regular meat

Grilled vegetable meat

Plant-based meat substitutes (PBMAs) have different nutritional profiles, but generally promote heart health better than meat from animals. Despite their high sodium content, PBMAs improve cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol without raising blood pressure. However, more long-term research is needed to understand their full impact on heart health. Experts emphasize the importance of focusing on overall dietary patterns rather than individual components for cardiovascular benefits. PBMAs can be a healthy choice, especially when lower in saturated fat and sodium, but caution should be exercised regarding risky foods such as egg yolks.

A recent review article examines the effects of plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) on cardiovascular disease risk factors, including cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

While there is considerable variation in the composition and nutritional profiles of plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs), they generally align with a heart-healthy diet. A review article in the Canadian Journal of Cardiologypublished by Elsevier, which examines studies comparing plant-based and animal meats, consistently shows that plant-based options can increase cardiovascular risk factors.

PBMAs are highly processed plant foods that typically replace meat in the diet. In Canada, the growing demand for PBMAs coincides with public health recommendations to reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods, raising the need to examine the long-term health implications of PBMAs.

Research into PBMA impact

Lead author Matthew Nagra, ND, Vancouver, BC, Canada, says: “While the plant-based meat market has seen significant growth in recent years and more and more Canadians are eating plant-based burgers, surprisingly little is known about how these meat alternatives improve health and nutrition. in particular may influence the risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, we sought to review the available literature on the topic to identify what is currently known and to guide future research.”

Plant-based meat alternatives More cardioprotective Nutritional profile Graphic

Plant-based meat substitutes (PBMAs) have a more cardioprotective nutritional profile and have been shown to improve cardiovascular risk factors compared to meat. Credit: Dr. Matthew Nagra, ND, and Felicia Tsam, RHN

The authors of the article reviewed research published between 1970 and 2023 on PBMAs, their content, nutritional profiles and their impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Their analysis shows:

  • There is significant variation in the content and nutritional profiles of PBMAs.
  • On average, PBMAs are nutritionally healthier for the heart than meat. However, the high sodium content of some products may be a cause for concern.
  • Several randomized controlled trials have shown that PBMAs improve several cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol levels.
  • PBMAs have not been shown to increase blood pressure, despite the high sodium content of some products.
  • There is currently a lack of long-term research evaluating how these alternatives may affect the risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • There is currently little research into the health of some common components of PBMAs, such as vital wheat gluten (seitan).

Gaps in research

The authors of the review article were surprised to find that there is an almost complete lack of research on vital wheat gluten, the main protein source found in many popular PBMAs, and on cardiovascular risk factors.

Dr. Nagra continues: “Furthermore, the lack of research on cardiovascular outcomes as of 2023 is shocking, given that there are randomized controlled trials evaluating risk factors dating back to 1990. More detailed research is needed in light of the increasing consumption of PBMAs and our lack of knowledge about how these products affect risk.”

In an accompanying editorial, J. David Spence, CM, MD, FRCPC, FAHA, professor emeritus of neurology and clinical pharmacology at Western University and director of the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Center at the Robarts Research Institute in London, ON, Canada, notes , on: “In an excellent review of PBMAs, Nagra et al. focus on the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors and the effects of various individual dietary factors on cardiovascular risk.”

However, Professor Spence points out that “what really matters is not the effect of individual components of a diet, nor the effect of diet on cardiovascular risk factors; it is the effect of diet on the actual risk of cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction and stroke. Most physicians significantly underestimate the cardiovascular benefit of diet and place far too little emphasis on diet when treating patients at high risk for cardiovascular events.”

Senior author of the review article Ehud Ur, MB, FRCPC, Professor, Department of Endocrinology & Metabolism, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, concludes: “For those looking to reduce their meat consumption, especially if it is red meat, replacing it with PBMAs is likely a heart-healthy choice. For those who are already limiting their meat consumption, PBMAs can be incorporated into a healthy diet as an excellent source of protein; however, it may be helpful to choose options lower in saturated fat and sodium if you are consuming them regularly.”

Finally, Dr. Spence issues a note of caution regarding the dietary implications of eating eggs, saying, “Individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease should limit meat consumption and avoid egg yolks, so plant-based meat substitutes and egg substitutes are useful for patients seeking to reduce their cardiovascular risk.” Their effect on reducing actual cardiovascular risk is undoubtedly much greater than their effect on cardiovascular risk factors.”

References: “Animal vs Plant-Based Meat: A Hearty Debate” by Matthew Nagra, Felicia Tsam, Shaun Ward, and Ehud Ur, June 26, 2024, Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cjca.2023.11.005

“Reducing Cardiovascular Risk: The Potential of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives and Egg Replacers” by J. David Spence, June 26, 2024, Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cjca.2023.12.026