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Reducing Protein May Lower Heart Disease Risk

Sharon Palmer


Protein is hot right now. Food labels and menu boards proudly and boldly display those desirable grams of protein. The truth is, there is no hierarchy of macros: protein is no better for us than carbs and fat. Our bodies require all three. When the mindset takes hold that if something is good for us, more must be better, we’re setting ourselves up for defeat. And so, it turns out that you may not need as much protein as you think. According to researchers, a lower protein diet may improve metabolic health, lowering risk for cardiometabolic diseases, which include heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Eating more plant foods—vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—can help lower risk for heart disease by reducing sulfur amino acids, which are found in protein-rich foods, like meat, dairy, nuts, and soy.

The study analyzed data from 11,576 people who were interviewed about what they’d eaten for the past 24 hours. Their blood was analyzed after a 10 to 16-hour fast for cardiometabolic disease—heart disease, diabetes, stroke—markers, such as abnormalities in cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin. Based on the data and test results, participants were given a cardiometabolic disease risk score. Those whose diets were lower in sulfur amino acids had lower risk scores. Researchers also found that the average sulfur amino acid intake among the participants was nearly two-and-a-half times higher than the estimated average requirement (15 mg/kg/day) recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine.

Meats and other high-protein foods tend to be higher in sulfur amino acids. By eating fewer animal foods, like meat and dairy, and more plant-based foods—high sulfur amino acid intake was associated with every type of food except vegetables, fruits, and grains—people are more likely to consume lower amounts of sulfur amino acids. A plant-based diet is an effective way to do so. Despite the protein hype, it’s easy to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. Eating a wide variety of plant foods will get you there.

Look at labels and do a little online research to find out how much protein is in the foods you eat. Even fruits and vegetables have protein, so you may be surprised that you’re getting enough already. A simple calculation—multiply your weight by 0.36 for a general idea of how many grams of protein you should be eating.

Read more about the study here:

(The Lancet, February 2020)

For other studies on plant-based eating, check out the following:

Athletes Can Meet Their Nutrient Needs on a Plant-Based Diet
Eat More Plants, Weigh Less
The Vegetarian Diet and Mediterranean Diet are Both Heart Healthy

Written by Lori Zanteson with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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