Compounds found in meat and certain vegetables can improve heart health, a new study shows. (Photo: Stocksy)
Meat isn’t exactly known as a heart-healthy food, but scientists are now saying it should be — in moderation.
New research published in the journal Nutrition found that eating meat can actually give your heart a boost — and the impact is the same as if you were to stop smoking, cut back on your sodium intake, or exercise more.
The study analyzed data of nearly 2,000 women in the U.K.’s largest adult twin registry. Researchers looked at how much protein a person ate as well as dietary intake of seven amino acids (the building blocks of protein) known to have heart-healthy properties.
When the researchers compared the diet data with several measures of heart health, they found that twins with healthier hearts than their siblings consumed more of the amino acids found in protein-rich foods like meat, fish, dairy, beans, lentils, broccoli, and spinach.
Your body uses amino acids to make new tissues and repair damaged tissue, among other functions. There are hundreds of amino acids, but scientists studied seven in particular — glutamic acid, leucine, tyrosine, glycine, histidine, arginine, and cysteine. They discovered that eating more amino acids from meat (glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine) was associated with having less-stiff arteries.
Those animal-based amino acids were also linked to lower blood pressure, but there was a greater link among participants who ate more amino acids from plant-based sources.
Since both high blood pressure and stiff arteries are linked to heart disease, researchers concluded that getting more amino acids in your diet — from meat and plants — can have a positive impact on your heart.
But before you run to the nearest steakhouse, consider this: Scientists say it doesn’t take much meat to reap the benefits. Having a small steak (about 2.7 ounces — roughly the size of a computer mouse) or 3.5 ounces of salmon (approximately the size of a checkbook) will help you fend off heart disease.
The findings may seem surprising, given that research has also found a link between red meat and heart disease. A 2013 study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that bacteria in our guts convert a common nutrient found in beef into a compound that can speed up plaque buildup in our arteries.
Certified dietitian-nutritionist Gina Keatley tells Yahoo Health that she’s “surprised by the magnitude of the impact” of increasing your amino acid intake from meat and other sources. The findings are especially meaningful, she says, because we get most of our amino acids from our diet. “Without these amino acids, major functions of the body do not work well and can lead to serious health issues and even death,” she says.
Keatley points out that not all proteins are created equal and recommends increasing your amino acid intake by consuming more seafood, specifically oysters, crab, tilapia, and haddock. “They contain all the amino acids in the study and have other functional properties that have been shown to improve health,” she explains.
If you prefer steak, she recommends seeking out leaner cuts such as sirloin or flank steak, or trying bison, a lean meat that contains many amino acids.
Despite the findings, Keatley says, you shouldn’t “go crazy” with added protein, since our bodies don’t store a large amount of amino acids. But if you’re not getting all your amino acids from your current diet, it’s worth ramping up your protein intake a little.
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