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Plant-based food can reduce heart disease risk by 10%

In a recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers from the Harbin Medical University in China found that substituting an animal protein for dinner with a plant protein could reduce the risk of certain cardiovascular diseases by 10%.

Plant Based Food

Plant-Based Food. Image Credit: Kert/

The relationship between meat and cardiovascular diseases

Regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) like congestive heart failure, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), and stroke, are the leading cause of mortality worldwide. The quantity and quality of our daily diet play a significant role in both the prevention and treatment of CVDs.

For example, a diet that is primarily composed of processed meats, added sugars, and saturated fats have been shown to significantly increase cholesterol levels and, subsequently, the individual’s risk of heart disease. Comparatively, a diet that includes a greater amount of whole carbohydrates like vegetables and grains and a reduced amount of meat has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of CVDs.

Meal timing and CVDs

In addition to determining an individual’s risk of CVDs based on the composition of their meals, several studies have also looked at how meal timing can alter certain metabolic and physiological parameters.

For example, the risk of obesity has been shown to rise in individuals who skip breakfast, eat late, and have substantial meals for dinner. This high energy load later in the day has been associated with reduced function of both postprandial glucose and insulin, which can contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome.

Can eating certain foods at a specific time of day determine CVD risk?

The quality of food that an individual eats, as well as the time at which they eat these meals, may play a role in determining their risk of CVDs. However, to date, there has not been a scientific study assessing how the consumption of certain foods at specific times of the day may, together, increase or reduce the risk of CVDs.

To further examine this relationship, a group of researchers from the Harbin Medical University in Harbin, China studied the association of subtypes of macronutrient consumption at dinner versus breakfast with the presence of certain CVDs. To this end, a total of 27,911 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted between 2003 and 2016, were included in the study.

In this study, the excessive consumption of low-quality carbohydrates including refined grains, fruit juice, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables, as well as added sugars, along with animal protein including unprocessed red meat, processed meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and eggs,  at dinner, rather than breakfast, was associated with an increased risk of CVD.

Comparatively, individuals who consumed a meal with a similar composition at breakfast had a reduced CVD risk. Taken together, these findings suggest that the timing of meals plays an important role in metabolic regulation. Furthermore, the circadian clock has clearly contributed to these metabolic functions.

The researchers also explored the effects of the isocaloric substitution with a one-serving decrease in low-quality carbohydrates or animal protein with a one-serving increase of high-quality carbohydrates or plant protein at dinner in individuals with CVD. This simultaneous substitution at dinner was found to reduce the risk of both congestive heart failure and stroke by 10% and 12%, respectively.

Furthermore, the substitution of one animal protein with one plant protein at dinner was found to reduce the risk of congestive heart failure and heart attacks by 10% and 8%, respectively.


The findings of the current study support the need to adjust nutritional guidelines to not only promote the consumption of high-quality carbohydrates and plant protein but also emphasize the importance of meal timing throughout the day.

It appears that people should eat fewer low-quality carbohydrates and less animal protein at dinner.”

Journal reference:

  • Hou, W., Gao, J., Jiang, W., et al. (2021). Meal Timing of Subtypes of Macronutrients Consumption with Cardiovascular Diseases: NHANES, 2003 to 2016. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgab288.

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