If you’ve been packing your meals with more lean meats, Greek yogurt, and hearty beans, your efforts to squeeze more protein into your diet might actually be wreaking havoc on your heart health. According to a new study published in the Circulation: Heart Failure journal by the American Heart Association (AHA), a diet high in protein—both plant-based and animal-derived—is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular failure.
Animal vs. Plant Protein
To come to these findings, University of Eastern Finland researchers tracked 2,441 middle-aged and older men’s daily protein intake, including protein sources, for about 22 years. They discovered that folks who ate the most plant-based protein showed a 17 percent higher risk of heart failure; men who ate the most animal protein showed a 43 percent higher risk, and those who ate the most dairy protein showed a whopping 49 percent higher risk compared to those men who consumed the least amount of protein.
In general, men with the highest overall protein intake had a 33 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular failure compared to those who consumed the least amount of the muscle-building macro. But what about other protein-rich sources such as fish and eggs? Interestingly enough, the study didn’t find a link between heart failure and eating fish or egg protein. It’s also worth noting that there’s no explanation for why consuming high amounts of major plant-based protein sources was associated with a higher risk of heart failure in those without a history of heart disease. The researchers write that “because of low number of events in this group, the association might be a chance finding.”
More Protein, More Problems
However, men with greater total protein intake and therefore higher risk of developing heart disease were also found to have higher BMIs and have higher intakes of processed meats and lower intake of fiber—three key heart-taxing culprits.
The authors acknowledge that the study poses unanswered questions regarding certain protein’s amino acids’ role in promoting heart failure as well as why fermented dairy (such as cheese and yogurt) is worse for your ticker than non-fermented dairy (such as milk, cream, and ice cream).
While the results suggest that a higher protein intake may be associated with a higher risk of heart failure, the study’s participant pool was limited to middle-aged and older men from Finland, a population with one of the highest recorded rates of heart disease. What’s more, the researchers acknowledge that further studies in more diverse populations are required to better understand protein’s role in triggering heart failure.
The verdict: Take this study with a grain of salt, and continue eating a balanced diet full of colorful produce, complex carbs, and quality proteins such as our 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss.