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STUDY: Plant-based meat lowers some cardiovascular risk factors compared with red meat

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The plant-based meat-eating group had lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower levels of LDL or bad cholesterol, and weight loss than the meat-eating group.

STANFORD MEDICINE: It may seem obvious that a patty made of plants is a healthier option than a hamburger. But many of the new meat alternatives, such as Beyond Meat, have relatively high levels of saturated fat and added sodium and are considered highly processed foods, meaning they are made with food isolates and extracts as opposed to whole beans or chopped mushrooms. All of these factors have been shown to contribute to cardiovascular disease risk, said Christopher Gardner, PhD, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

“There’s been this sort of backlash against these new meat alternatives,” Gardner said. “The question is, if you’re adding sodium and coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat, and using processed ingredients, is the product still actually healthy?” To find out, Gardner and his team gathered a group of more than 30 individuals and assigned them to two different diets, each one for eight weeks. One diet called for at least two daily servings of meat — the options available were primarily red meat — and one called for at least two daily servings of plant-based meat…

Gardner, a longtime vegetarian, is a staunch proponent of eating whole foods, with a particular emphasis on vegetables. As nearly all plant-based meats are fairly high in saturated fats and classified as highly processed foods, Gardner wanted to study how they affect the body compared with red meat… He and his team conducted a study that enrolled 36 participants for 16 weeks of dietary experimentation… The main outcome the team was interested in tracking, Gardner said, was the level of TMAO. Gardner calls TMAO “an emerging risk factor,” meaning there seems to be a connection between higher levels of TMAO and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease…

In Gardner’s study, the researchers observed that participants who ate the red-meat diet during the first eight-week phase had an increase in TMAO, while those who ate the plant-based diet first did not… Outside of TMAO, health benefits conveyed from plant-based alternatives extended to weight and levels of LDL cholesterol — or “bad” cholesterol… “The modest weight loss observed when participants substituted the plant-based meats in place of the red meats is an unexpected finding, since this was not a weight-loss study,” Crimarco said. “I think this indicates the importance of diet quality. Not all highly processed foods are created equal.”  SOURCE…

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