Replacing meat with plant-based alternatives can reduce risk of heart attacks and strokes, says new study

Author: Maria Chiorando

Read Time:   |  9th March 2023

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Plant-based alternatives can 'lower total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglyceride levels' according to the meta-analysis by researchers at the University of Warwick


Replacing meat with vegan meat alternatives can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Warwick.

The study, published in the journal Dietetics, reviewed previous research from controlled clinical trials to compare omnivorous diets containing traditional meat to diets with a high meat alternative content.

There were two types of meat alternative included in the study. One was plant-based, ie; made from processed soy, wheat, peanut, or pea protein. The other was mycoprotein-based, which is sourced from a fungus and is commonly sold under the brand name Quorn.

Researchers noted that plant-based diets rich in foods like vegetables and processed grains are ‘known to improve important risk factors for CVD such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight‘, and have been ‘associated with reduced risk of developing and dying from CVD’.

But, they said, until now, it has been ‘unknown whether plant-based diets containing large amounts of meat alternatives would have the same cardiovascular benefits as plant-based diets based on unprocessed plant foods’.

The study found that eating alternatives in place of meat is ‘ likely to benefit your cholesterol levels and possibly reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD)’.

Plant-based alternatives

In a statement sent to Vegan Food & Living, lead author Joshua Gibbs, a PhD student at Warwick Medical School, who holds a Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) scholarship, described the research.

He said: “We reviewed 12 studies involving 459 participants, in which the effects of meat alternative consumption on cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, and body weight were studied in controlled clinical trials. 

“Meta-analysis of these studies showed that meat alternative consumption lowers total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Meat alternative consumption reduced total cholesterol by half a point (0.5 mmol/L) and LDL cholesterol by 0.39 (mmol/L) when compared with omnivorous diets.

“Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, can lead to the build up of fatty plaques in your arteries which restrict blood flow and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke

“An LDL cholesterol reduction of the scale caused by meat alternative consumption would reduce the risk of developing heart disease by about 25 per cent over a two-year period.”


‘Significant’ benefits

He explained that this is a significant finding as it ‘highlights that people can obtain some of the benefits of healthy plant-based diets whilst making minimal dietary change i.e., swapping animal meat with meat alternatives’.

He noted that switching out meat for plant-based alternatives also offers environmental benefits.

“Plant-based and mycoprotein-based meat substitutes have been shown to have smaller carbon, land, and water footprints than conventional meat by up to 90 per cent depending on the type of animal being substituted,” he explained.

“People interested in making the switch to meat alternatives should try to avoid regularly consuming products that are high in saturated fat and salt as these ingredients may undermine the cardiovascular health benefits observed in our study.”

Tempted to try making the switch yourself? Get inspired by these 22 vegan seitan recipes even meat-eaters will love

Featured image: DronG via Getty Images

Reference: The Effect of Plant-Based and Mycoprotein-Based Meat Substitute Consumption on Cardiometabolic Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Intervention Trials by Joshua Gibb, published in Dietetics

Written by

Maria Chiorando

Maria is an editor and journalist. Her work has been published by the Huffington Post, the Guardian, TechnoBuffalo, Plant Based News, and Kent on Sunday among other national and regional titles.

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