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Meat alternatives can lower your cholesterol, study finds

Anatomical model of the human heart. Photo by Jesse Orico via Unsplash.

This paper estimates that plant-based diets can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight in comparison to traditional meat-containing omnivorous diets. However, it is less clear whether these same benefits are consistent in diets containing processed meat alternatives.

This paper reviewed data from 12 studies involving 459 participants to assess the health impact of various meat alternatives derived from plants (pea protein (Beyond meat), gluten, soy, peanut protein) or mycoprotein (Quorn). Whilst plant-based diets can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by improving blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight, it is currently unclear whether these benefits are maintained in diets containing processed meat alternatives. When compared to a traditional meat-containing omnivorous diet, a diet high in meat alternatives was found to reduce total cholesterol by 0.5mmol/L and LDL cholesterol by 0.39mmol/L. Thus, along with the potential to reduce the emissions associated with traditional meat production, the paper concludes that meat alternatives could also reduce the risk of heart disease.



Background: Climate change is a serious threat to human wellbeing and development. Global reduction of meat intake is key to addressing climate change and other modern sustainability challenges. Plant-based and mycoprotein-based meat substitutes are predicted to play a key role in the reduction of meat intake; however, their impact on human health is unclear. The main objective of this meta-analysis was to assess the short-term effects of meat substitutes on important cardiometabolic biomarkers (total cholesterol, TC; LDL-cholesterol, LDL-C; HDL-cholesterol, HDL-C; triglycerides, TG; systolic blood pressure, SBP; diastolic blood pressure, DBP; fasting blood glucose, FBG; weight) in controlled clinical trials. Methods: Embase and MEDLINE were searched to identify controlled clinical trials with meat substitute interventions and cardiometabolic biomarker outcomes. Standardised mean differences in TC, LDL-C, HDL-C, TG, FBG, SBP, DBP, and weight and 95% confidence intervals were pooled using a random effects model. Risk of bias, heterogeneity, sensitivity, and publication bias were assessed. Of the 934 records identified, 12 studies met the inclusion criteria. In the pooled analyses, the consumption of meat substitutes was associated with significantly lower TC (−0.50 mmol/L [95% CIs −0.70, −0.29]), LDL-C (−0.39 mmol/L [−0.57, −0.21]), and TG (−0.15 mmol/L [−0.29, −0.01]), non-significantly lower FBG (−0.08 [−0.23, 0.08]), SBP (−0.32 [−1.79, 1.41]), and weight (−0.12 [−1.52, 1.27]), and non-significantly higher HDL-C (0.01 [−0.02, 0.05]) and DBP (0.49 [−0.30, 1.28]). There was evidence of publication bias, and some heterogeneity was detected. The certainty of evidence was moderate for the TC and HDL-C results, low for the LDL-C, TG, SBP, DBP, and weight results, and very low for the FBG results. Conclusions: Replacement of some or all meat with plant-based or mycoprotein-based substitutes may lower TC, LDL-C, and TG.



Gibbs, J., and Leung, G-K., 2023. 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. Dietetics, 2(1), pp.104-122.

Read the full paper here. See also the TABLE Letterbox series Depolarising the future of protein and Meat, metrics and mindsets: Exploring debates on the role of livestock and alternatives in diets and farming which explores meat alternatives and their impacts on diet.

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