Study: Vegan Burgers Better for Heart Health Than Red Meat
Researchers found plant-based meat lowers TMAO levels. | Jonny Caspari via Unsplash

A new study finds vegan burgers are better for your heart health than red meat.

Researchers at Stanford Medicine have found that a diet that includes approximately two servings of plant-based meat “lowers some cardiovascular risk factors.” This is compared to a diet that includes the same amount of red meat.

The study was funded by plant-based meat producer Beyond Meat. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, and senior author of the paper said plant-based meats seem like a healthier option than animal meat, though did caution against overconsumption.

“Many of the new meat alternatives, such as Beyond Meat, have relatively high levels of saturated fat and added sodium and are considered highly processed foods,” he said in a statement. “All of these factors have been shown to contribute to cardiovascular disease risk.”

This was the basis for the study, Gardner said. “The question is, if you’re adding sodium and coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat, and using processed ingredients, is the [plant-based] product still actually healthy?”

Plant-Based Meat Versus Red Meat

To discover which protein was healthier, researchers studied the impact of the two proteins on a group of 36 people. Eighteen were given two daily servings of plant-based meat for eight weeks. The other half were given animal meat.

At the end of eight weeks, the two groups switched. Those that had previously eaten the plant-based meat were given animal meat for eight more weeks and vice-versa.

Then, researchers measured the levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) in their bodies. TMAO is a molecule that may be linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

They discovered those who ate the red meat diet during the first eight-week period had higher levels of TMAO. Those who consumed the plant-based meat first had lower levels. When the two groups switched diets, those who went from animal meat to plant-based meat saw a decrease in TMAO levels. But those who transitioned from plant-based meat to red meat did not have an increase in TMAO levels.

“It was pretty shocking,” Gardner, a vegetarian, said. “[F]or the participants who had the plant-based diet first, during which they ate no meat, we basically made them vegetarians, and in so doing, may have inadvertently blunted their ability to make TMAO.”

Researchers also found that—regardless of which diet was consumed first—levels of LDL cholesterol decreased when people consumed the plant-based meat. Participants also lost an average of two pounds when they were on the plant-based meat diet.