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Reducing the amount of protein-rich foods like meat, dairy, nuts, and soy can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Getty Images
  • People with a lower intake of sulfur amino acids were found to have a lower cardiometabolic disease risk score.
  • Cardiometabolic diseases include conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Study participants had a sulfur amino acid intake about 2 1/2 times greater than what’s recommended.
  • It appears that many people could benefit from reducing their protein intake.
  • Eating more plant foods and less meat can help people take in fewer sulfur amino acids.

Are you looking to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes?

According to John Richie, PhD, a professor of public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, a lower protein diet may be your ticket to better metabolic health.

Richie and his team arrived at this conclusion after examining data from the Third National Examination and Nutritional Health Survey.

In their study, they looked at data from 11,576 people.

The study participants were interviewed about what they’d eaten in the past 24 hours. Then, the team used the U.S. Department of Agriculture Survey Nutrient Database to calculate their nutrient intakes.

Their blood was also analyzed for various cardiometabolic disease biomarkers.

Cardiometabolic diseases include such conditions as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Abnormalities in certain blood tests — such as cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin — are associated with an increased risk for cardiometabolic disease.

A cardiometabolic disease risk score was assigned to each person based on their test results.

The researchers found that people whose diets contained fewer sulfur amino acids had lower risk scores.

Sulfur amino acids are a type of amino acid found in protein-rich foods like meat, dairy, nuts, and soy.

Richie says it’s not currently known how sulfur amino acids impact cardiometabolic disease.

He believes that they might trigger certain pathways in cells which control how nutrients like carbohydrates and fats are metabolized.

According to Richie, his team’s work could help establish a recommended intake level for sulfur amino acids.

The researchers found that the average sulfur amino acid intake among the study participants was almost 2 1/2 times higher than what’s currently recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine.

This is due to the fact that Americans tend to eat a large amount of meat and dairy, according to Xiang Gao, associate professor and director of the nutritional epidemiology lab at the Penn State University, who co-authored the study.

Based on this, it appears that reduced consumption of meat and dairy would be advisable for many people.

Richie also recommends eating more fruits and vegetables to “dilute” total protein intake.

Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RDRR-UCLA Medical Center, who wasn’t involved in the research, says the most important thing to take away from this study is that we should significantly reduce our intake of animal-based foods and dairy.

Just 1 ounce of meat has 7 grams of protein, she says. If you eat 8 ounces of meat in one meal, you can easily exceed your protein needs.

Hunnes says we should also be more open to a plant-based diet.

She notes that even on a vegan diet — which includes no animal foods at all -— it’s very difficult to not consume enough protein. Even fruits and vegetables have protein.

Eating a wide variety of plant foods will ensure that you get adequate protein.

To calculate your daily protein needs, Hunnes suggests multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36. This will tell you how many grams of protein you need to consume.

For example, a healthy 180-pound man would want to shoot for 65 grams of protein each day.

A healthy 140-pound woman would need about 51 grams of protein per day.

Food labels are a useful way to estimate your protein consumption, Hunnes says.

Dr. Julius M. Gardin, MBA, professor of medicine and director (interim) at the Division of Cardiology at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who didn’t take part in the study, suggests that in addition to diet, there are several other ways you can alter your risk for cardiometabolic disease.

  • Get regular exercise. The American Heart Association recommends about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
  • Watch your weight. The goal is to keep your body mass index within the recommended range for your body.
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco or nicotine use. Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.
  • Get your blood sugar checked. You don’t necessarily have to have obesity to have diabetes or be at risk for heart disease, explains Gardin. You might look healthy, but your blood sugar is telling a different story.
  • Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked. You can have a stroke without even realizing that anything was amiss, says Gardin.

Increased cardiometabolic disease risk has been associated with greater consumption of sulfur amino acids.

Reducing your intake of meats and dairy and eating more plant foods will greatly reduce your intake of these compounds, potentially lowering your risk for disease.

It’s also wise to get regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, and see your doctor for regular checkups to monitor your disease risk factors, such as elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.