Protein and Heart Disease

Protein and Heart Disease
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Why is the intake of animal protein associated with heart disease—even independent of saturated fat—and the intake of plant protein protective?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

We know that the quality and quantity of fat is tightly correlated with the risk of our #1 killer—heart disease. But, what about protein? Out of Harvard recently: “Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in middle-aged men.”

Independent of source, and independent of fat, do you think total protein intake was associated with more heart disease? Less heart disease? Or, no difference? And, the answer they found was, no difference. The quantity didn’t seem to matter.

But, what about the quality—the source of the protein?

“[They] observed no association between [total] dietary protein and risk of total [heart disease] in this group of men. However, higher intake of animal protein may be associated with an increased risk of [ischemic heart disease] in ‘healthy’ men” [meaning those without hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes].” “Healthy” only in quotes though, given their higher risk of heart disease, due to their consumption of animal protein.

They also observed “a significant inverse association between higher vegetable protein intake and risk of fatal heart disease.” So, more plants; less heart disease. Meaning, the more plants, and fewer animals, one eats would appear to be better for the heart—even independent of the fat issue.

So, the benefits of a plant-based diet may extend beyond just avoiding saturated animal fat.

But, isn’t protein just protein, though? I mean, how does your body know if it’s coming from a plant, or an animal? Well, proteins are made up of a string of amino acids, and there are some amino acids more common in plants than in animals—particularly glutamic acid, which a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association was found, for example, to potentially “have independent [blood pressure]-lowering effects, which may contribute to the inverse relation [between] vegetable protein to [blood pressure],”—meaning high plants; low pressure.

Their data “generally reinforce current recommendations for a high intake of vegetable products as a part of comprehensive nutritional/lifestyle approaches to preventing and controlling major established cardiovascular risk factors and epidemic cardiovascular disease.”

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

We know that the quality and quantity of fat is tightly correlated with the risk of our #1 killer—heart disease. But, what about protein? Out of Harvard recently: “Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in middle-aged men.”

Independent of source, and independent of fat, do you think total protein intake was associated with more heart disease? Less heart disease? Or, no difference? And, the answer they found was, no difference. The quantity didn’t seem to matter.

But, what about the quality—the source of the protein?

“[They] observed no association between [total] dietary protein and risk of total [heart disease] in this group of men. However, higher intake of animal protein may be associated with an increased risk of [ischemic heart disease] in ‘healthy’ men” [meaning those without hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes].” “Healthy” only in quotes though, given their higher risk of heart disease, due to their consumption of animal protein.

They also observed “a significant inverse association between higher vegetable protein intake and risk of fatal heart disease.” So, more plants; less heart disease. Meaning, the more plants, and fewer animals, one eats would appear to be better for the heart—even independent of the fat issue.

So, the benefits of a plant-based diet may extend beyond just avoiding saturated animal fat.

But, isn’t protein just protein, though? I mean, how does your body know if it’s coming from a plant, or an animal? Well, proteins are made up of a string of amino acids, and there are some amino acids more common in plants than in animals—particularly glutamic acid, which a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association was found, for example, to potentially “have independent [blood pressure]-lowering effects, which may contribute to the inverse relation [between] vegetable protein to [blood pressure],”—meaning high plants; low pressure.

Their data “generally reinforce current recommendations for a high intake of vegetable products as a part of comprehensive nutritional/lifestyle approaches to preventing and controlling major established cardiovascular risk factors and epidemic cardiovascular disease.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Doctor's Note

This is another reason plant protein is preferable (see Plant Protein Preferable). Cheaper, too! See Eating Healthy on the Cheap. Beans specifically have been linked to lower blood pressure (Fill in the Blank). Other healthier sources of protein, such as nuts, also lower heart disease risk via a variety of mechanisms. See, for example, How Do Nuts Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death? More landmark research for Harvard in Harvard’s Meat and Mortality Studies, and What Women Should Eat to Live Longer.

For further context, check out my associated blog post: Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

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29 responses to “Protein and Heart Disease

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  1. So, do you think that saturated fat, as utilized in studies, is just a marker for animal protein intake? Reason I ask is the issue of cow’s milk ghee in Ayurveda. Has saturated fat, but no animal protein. Anecdotally, practitioners in India (no formal studies I could find) are reporting reversal of coronary artery blockage when patients move to an essentially vegan diet, but uses ghee instead of vegetable oils..

    Given that Ayurveda was geared towards the promotion of longevity, would be interested to hear your thoughts.




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      1. Since it is clarified (separated), the milk solids and moisture are removed, leaving only the fat part of the butter behind. The solids that are removed constitute the protein, whereas the fat contains, well… fat! :)

        Incidentally, ghee contains 8 mg of cholesterol per TEAspoon, according to Wikipedia. O_o




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        1. Agreed. Also has a ton of Vitamin K2. I’m interested in looking at this a bit further, given the huge role ghee plays in a traditional Ayurvedic Diet. Ayurveda was geared towards promoting longevity, so I assume they would’t recommend an agent if it was disease causing. However, the mechanism needs to be clarified (no pun intended).




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          1. Wrong. Sorry, that’s just plain wrong. Not all saturated fats are the same. Coconut oil does not contain the long-chain fats found in animal products or lard. Medium chain fatty acids, MCFA’s, are good for you. They don’t go into your fat cells, but straight to the liver where they are converted into energy (without sugars or carbs… good for diabetics). The health benefits of coconut oil are numerous, well researched, and documented. I don’t have room here to list them all, but you can find them. Do a little research. http://www.livestrong.com/article/261372-coconut-oil-nutrition-facts/




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            1. I prefer to rely on the available science rather than look at articles on the internet. What you are suggesting about coconut oil is false.

              Coconut oil does indeed contain medium chain fatty acids and this may be metabolized differently but there are very few studies to make the conclusion that coconut oil is “ok” or that medium chain saturated fats are negligible. A tablespoon of coconut oil has about 11.7 grams of saturated fat. about 8 grams of this is medium chain saturated fat and about 3.7 grams of this is long chain saturated fat. We have an abundance of evidence concluding that that long chain saturated fats are harmful so we cannot consider this oil a healthy option based on that alone.

              As far as minerals and vitamins go, there is not one
              significant vitamin or mineral in coconut oil. The only vitamin present in a tablespoon of coconut oil is .1 micrograms of vitamin k which does not even register as a percentage of daily value. Its also absent of any
              omega 3 fats. Just looking at coconut oils nutritional profile we see that it is clearly a junk food. Junk food is by definition empty calories.
              http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/508/2

              The available science on the oil is limited and does not really support coconut oil as a “superfood”.

              The evidence to prove its health benefits are scant.

              Only 1 study on weight loss:

              Forty obese women cut their food intake by 200 calories a day and exercised four days a week. Half of them used two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 240 calories’ worth) every day in their cooking and half used soybean oil. After three months, both groups had lost the same amount of weight, about two pounds.
              http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058

              Only 1 poorly concluded study with very mixed results on alzheimers:

              Placebo and coconut oil consumers scored no different on a cognitive impairment test when the subjects were randomized. If they weren’t randomized (which could represent stacking up the placebo group with very sick
              patients) then the coconut fat consumers scored slightly better after 45 days in the study. After 90 days though everyone pretty much evened out in cognitive improvement which does not show any real gain.
              http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/6/1/31

              Only 1 old study done to “support” heart disease:

              “In the only study done in people in the last 17 years, Malaysian researchers last year found that when they fed young men and women 20 percent of their calories from coconut oil for five weeks, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol was 8 percent higher and HDL (“good”) cholesterol was 7
              percent higher than when the participants were fed 20 percent of their calories from olive oil”

              Just because Both bad cholesterol and good cholesterol went up does not mean that coconut oil is protective against heart disease and it does not at all mean its healthy. This doesn’t make good sense.
              http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2011/10/26/ajcn.111.020107

              After looking through the livestrong article, the only support of evidence are opinions of a couple doctors from Oprah. The opinions of doctors do not count as science. The only study that the livestrong article posts is the one i discussed about weight loss which is not significant.




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            2. This is all “marketing hype” that you are quoting. I have heard the SAME statements over and over again from dozens of different people; PER BATUM.
              I think they are all quoting from the same “source”.

              ALL OIL ARE BAD, PERIOD !!!!!, Oil is UN-NATURAL HIGHLY PROCESSED FOOD……….It Dr. Esselstyn quote……….NO OIL, if you want to be heart ATTACK PROOF……….cause why………oil as it passes through your blood damages your ENDOTHELIUM,………..which synthesized nitric oxide that responsible for dilation of blood vessels…………………..

              Only FAT NEEDED IS OMEGA 6 AND OMEGA 3 from nuts and seeds……….whole FOOD, NOT OIL !!!!!!!




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  2. Colin Campbell told us almost 8 years ago that a similar relationship between animal and plant protein exists in relation to cancer. This is more reason to avoid animal protein.




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  3. I love protein too, just plant protein. Just imagine how strong you can become eating plants and how healthy you’ll be.
    Look at the fantastic pic below of one of the greats Billy Simmonds.




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  4. Just like Windows 8. Have to change things up to keep me thinking. (Argh!) Please don’t start charging for your changes, I truly appreciate what you do, and all for FREE!




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  5. Do you think soy (namely in the form of edamame beans, tempeh, or tofu) or quinoa would yield similar results since they are high quality proteins? Tofu also has a comparably higher amount of saturated fat for being a legume (food).




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  6. Dr. Greger, this seems to imply that adding MSG to one’s meal of animal protein would make it more like plant protein, and possibly confer the benefit of lowering blood pressure. However, I suspect the amounts of MSG added to food in a typical Chinese restaurant, for example, would greatly exceed the proportion found in plant protein.




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  7. KNOWTHYFOOD.COM stated that “After researching these products, my understanding is that they both contain high quantities of the amino acid glutamate, which has the same toxic effect as MSG described in Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills written by Dr. Russell Blaylock.”

    What are your thoughts on Nutritional Yeast and other Yeasts such as autolyzed yeast added to many foods?




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  8. Im on low/moderate fat vegan diet, trying to build muscle to gain weight. Are plant based protein shakes okay? Such as Hemp or Pea protein? They contain about 20G of protein per 2 scoops. Usually I mix with coaco powder, almond milk and ground flax seeds.




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    1. Hi Jordan. Sounds fine to me. I always strive for whole-food protein sources but if working out I know folks like to grab a smoothie to-go. Hemp and pea are fine sources. I would stay away from (or highly limit) soy protein isolate and dairy-based proteins.




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  9. Insufficient potassium and
    vitamin B-1 (thiamin) can not damage the heart significantly when both are
    deficient. This has important safety implications when supplementing each
    during heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, beri-beri, or
    diabetes influenced by the deficiency of one of them. It is extremely important
    to know which kind of heart disease is involved. You may see this discussed in
    detail in http://charles_w.tripod.com/kandthiamin.html

    Copper is crucial for strength of arteries because of its role as part
    of lysil oxidase, which cross links elastin tissue. A deficiency is probably
    the main cause of aneurisms and therefore many strokes, hemorrhoids, and many
    bleeding problems, as well as high blood cholesterol. You may see how to
    increase copper from food in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper3.html and a discussion of copper physiology in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper.html .

    Sincerely, Charles Weber




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  10. Insufficient potassium and
    vitamin B-1 (thiamin) can not damage the heart significantly when both are
    deficient. This has important safety implications when supplementing each
    during heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, beri-beri, or
    diabetes influenced by the deficiency of one of them. It is extremely important
    to know which kind of heart disease is involved. You may see this discussed in
    detail in http://charles_w.tripod.com/kandthiamin.html

    Copper is crucial for strength of arteries because of its role as part
    of lysil oxidase, which cross links elastin tissue. A deficiency is probably
    the main cause of aneurisms and therefore many strokes, hemorrhoids, and many
    bleeding problems, as well as high blood cholesterol. You may see how to
    increase copper from food in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper3.html and a discussion of copper physiology in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper.html .

    Sincerely, Charles Weber




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    0
  11. Insufficient potassium and
    vitamin B-1 (thiamin) can not damage the heart significantly when both are
    deficient. This has important safety implications when supplementing each
    during heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, beri-beri, or
    diabetes influenced by the deficiency of one of them. It is extremely important
    to know which kind of heart disease is involved. You may see this discussed in
    detail in http://charles_w.tripod.com/kandthiamin.html

    Copper is crucial for strength of arteries because of its role as part
    of lysil oxidase, which cross links elastin tissue. A deficiency is probably
    the main cause of aneurisms and therefore many strokes, hemorrhoids, and many
    bleeding problems, as well as high blood cholesterol. You may see how to
    increase copper from food in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper3.html and a discussion of copper physiology in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper.html .

    Sincerely, Charles Weber




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    0
  12. Insufficient potassium and
    vitamin B-1 (thiamin) can not damage the heart significantly when both are
    deficient. This has important safety implications when supplementing each
    during heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, beri-beri, or
    diabetes influenced by the deficiency of one of them. It is extremely important
    to know which kind of heart disease is involved. You may see this discussed in
    detail in http://charles_w.tripod.com/kandthiamin.html

    Copper is crucial for strength of arteries because of its role as part
    of lysil oxidase, which cross links elastin tissue. A deficiency is probably
    the main cause of aneurisms and therefore many strokes, hemorrhoids, and many
    bleeding problems, as well as high blood cholesterol. You may see how to
    increase copper from food in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper3.html and a discussion of copper physiology in http://charles_w.tripod.com/copper.html .

    Sincerely, Charles Weber




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  13. should be concerned about too much protein? I get around 80g a day, mostly due to my breakfast of oats and the broccoli i eat. I eat around 2200 calories




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