Did you know that cutting back on meat can help heart health? Studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meats (like ground beef, steak, hot dogs and cold cuts) increases your risk of heart disease. That’s because saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet can raise your body’s bad cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk.
Thankfully, even a moderate reduction in consumption can make a difference. Women especially can significantly reduce their risk for heart disease by swapping some red and processed meat with leaner protein sources like nuts and beans. That’s where Meatless Monday comes in: by going meatless one day a week you’re reducing your saturated fat intake by about 15%, which can help you maintain healthier cholesterol levels.
It’s important for us to take action for a healthier heart. Cardiovascular disease -which includes heart disease and stroke- is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming 2,200 lives every day.
In honor of national heart month, we asked Angelo A Alonzo, PHD, Research Scientist, Director of the Yale Heart Study, Yale School of Nursing about the connection between diet and heart disease and what readers can do to reduce their risk.
What are you working on at the Yale Heart Study?
Angelo A Alonzo, PHD: Most of the medical care that can save someone who is having a heart attack needs to be administered within the first hour. Our goal is to find out how people prioritize their cardiac symptoms and why they might hesitate to get care. We are recruiting participants online to come fill out our survey.
What is the connection between diet and heart disease?
AA: All of the research that I’ve looked at urges for a balanced diet with a good distribution between fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and protein. We also know that proteins that contain a lot of saturated fat are not good for people, while the Mediterranean diet, which is abundant in plant-foods and low on red meat, is better for heart health.
Given that, do you think Meatless Monday is an effective strategy for heart health?
AA: Sure, I think any time that one can reduce the amount of protein they eat from saturated sources, that would be a benefit. Starting the week off with healthier choices makes sense too. I can see how a Monday start can lead to more conscious eating on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Personally, I have trouble when going out to eat- we’re served such large portions of meat! I found it interesting that consumption of beef, pork and chicken in the U.S. has been going down: perhaps this represents the effect of long term education.
Aside from Meatless Monday, what are some other actions that people can take to improve their heart health?
AA: The number one thing people can do is stop smoking. Exercise is also strongly encouraged: those with active occupations -like mailmen and waitresses- their cardiovascular health is a little better because they’re up and moving more often. We should exercise 5 days a week, for a total of 150 minutes each week. Of course, stress reduction and moving towards a healthier diet are important as well.