For years, we at Zonia have been encouraging people to start eating a plant-forward diet!
Plants are the best sources of the critical micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber) your body needs in order to function, and contain plenty of the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) that keep the internal systems running and producing energy.
Now, research from the American Heart Association provides further proof that we’re on the right track. Read on to find out the truth about how red meat consumption may cause a risk to both your cardiovascular system and your gut microbiome!
For decades, scientists have been pointing to red meat as one of the primary causes of heart conditions. Though most of the research has been focused on the high cholesterol and fat content of red meat, some has taken a more oblique approach to looking for other ways that red meat could harm your body.
According to a paper published by the AHA ¸ the higher risk of cardiovascular disease caused by red meat consumption may be largely the result of metabolites produced by your gut microbiome as it breaks down and digests meat.
When the bacteria in your gut digests red meat, there is a chemical byproduct produced called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. This chemical is produced in order for your gut bacteria to be able to digest the high L-carnitine content of the red meat.
Past studies have linked TMAO to Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and higher cardiovascular disease risks. However, in this particular study, the researchers examined the levels of TMAO in the blood of its participants to see exactly how it could contribute to a higher risk of heart problems.
After analyzing the blood samples, they found that blood sugar levels tended to be higher following red meat consumption (thanks to TMAO), as well as general inflammation in the body. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels proved far less important to the higher cardiovascular disease risks than high blood sugar and inflammation.
What does this mean? Simple: red meat (with all its saturated fat and cholesterol) itself may not be the problem. The real problem is the way that it affects your body.
Because your body has to produce TMAO to break down the high L-carnitine content of the red meat, the presence of these metabolites increases—and thus can contribute to higher rates of not only CVD, but also diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
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Reducing red meat in your diet is a good way to prevent the production of TMAO metabolites, which in turn will decrease your risk of heart disease. Adding heart-smart plant-based foods will not only decrease CVD risk further, but actually improve the health of your heart and brain. Plant-based foods are loaded in antioxidants and micronutrients that will protect your heart against “inflammaging” (inflammation-induced aging) and maintain healthy brain function.
Which foods should be the core of your diet?
Nuts and Seeds – These are rich in healthy fatty acids that serve as protectors for your skin and the cells in your brain, organs, and blood vessels. Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, and walnuts are some of the best additions to a plant-forward diet.
Legumes – Legumes like lentils, beans, and chickpeas are all amazing sources of the protein your body needs to build muscle mass, but contain no L-carnitine, and thus won’t trigger the production of TMAO. They’re also rich in dietary fiber and can feed the bacteria in your gut, encouraging them to flourish and improving digestion overall.
Whole Grains – Whole grains are an amazing source of energy, as well as fiber (soluble and insoluble), minerals, and even some proteins. Quinoa, brown rice, barley, millet, spelt, couscous, and buckwheat are all excellent additions to a healthy, plant-forward diet.
Fruits – Fruits are the best source of antioxidants. Orange fruits contain Vitamin A, blueberries and red plums contain anthocyanins, watermelon contains lycopene, and citrus fruits are loaded with Vitamin C. You don’t want to eat TOO MUCH fruit, as it’s high in sugar. But 2-3 servings of fruit per day can be an amazing way to get more of the heart-smart, neuroprotective antioxidants that will stave off premature aging.
Vegetables -- Vegetables are the bedrock of a healthy diet. The more variety you eat—tubers, roots, cruciferous veggies, sprouts, leafy greens, etc.—the wider range of micro and macronutrients you’ll get. Veggies are amazing for digestion and provide the dietary fiber that feeds your gut bacteria. The more you can add into your diet, the healthier you will be in the long run!
You can always add other foods (fish, lean meats, eggs, healthy fats, etc.), but these should be the foundation of your diet. Not only will they combat the accumulation of TMAO that can contribute to higher CVD risks, but they’ll ensure your gut is functioning at optimum capacity and keeping your body healthy from the inside out.
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