Study finds if this is part of your regular diet, you could be at major risk for heart problems

The secret to living a longer life might be with a plant-based diet.

While diet fads and trends come and go, there’s no perfect recipe for leading a healthier lifestyle. Some diets call for fasting, while others focusing on calorie restrictions might do the trick. But perhaps the real secret is finding a diet with reduced sulfur amino acids, which can decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a new study.

Go meatless?

Researchers at Penn State University said reducing protein-rich foods like meats, dairy, nuts, and soy may lessen the risk for cardiovascular disease.

In the study, published in Lancet Clinical Medicine, researchers said the reduction of sulfur amino acids, which include methionine and cysteine, play keys roles in metabolism and health.

“For decades it has been understood that diets restricting sulfur amino acids were beneficial for longevity in animals,” John Richie, a professor at Penn State College of Medicine, said in a press release. “This study provides the first epidemiologic evidence that excessive dietary intake of sulfur amino acids may be related to chronic disease outcomes in humans.”

In a nationwide study, Richie and his team examined diets and blood biomarkers of more than 11,000 participants, where they discovered that those who ate foods containing less sulfur amino acids had decreased risk for cardiometabolic disease via their bloodwork. For the study, researchers examined data to compile a “composite cardiometabolic disease risk score” based on participants’ bloodwork after a 10-16 hour fasting period.

They took a look at biomarkers such as cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin, according to the report. Ritchie said these biomarkers are indications of an individual’s risk for disease.

Researchers made a startling discovery in the study: Americans were eating sulfur amino acids almost two and a half times more than the estimated average requirement.

“Many people in the US consume a diet rich in meat and dairy products and the estimated average requirement is only expected to meet the needs of half of healthy individuals,” said Xiang Gao, a co-author and associate professor at Penn State University. “Therefore, it is not surprising that many are surpassing the average requirement when considering these foods contain higher amounts of sulfur amino acids.”

How bad is having higher sulfur amino acid intake? Pretty harmful, according to researchers, as it was linked to a higher cardiovascular disease risk score. The study suggested that plant-based products could be a beneficial path to consuming fewer sulfur amino acids.

“Meats and other high-protein foods are generally higher in sulfur amino acid content,” Zhen Dong, the lead author and College of Medicine graduate, said. “People who eat lots of plant-based products like fruits and vegetables will consume lower amounts of sulfur amino acids. These results support some of the beneficial health effects observed in those who eat vegan or other plant-based diets.”

The revelation behind the benefits of plant-based diets comes just as a separate study found that eating red meat and processed meat heightens the risk of heart disease and death.

Researchers from Northwestern University and Cornell University found that eating two servings of red meat, processed meat or poultry (not fish) per week was linked to a 3 to 7% higher risk of cardiovascular disease while eating just two servings of red meat or processed meat each week created a 3% higher risk of all causes of death.

The study, published by JAMA Internal Medicine, said it might be time to look twice at the deli counter and think about red meat consumption.

“It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” said Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”