#365 What’s Better for Your Heart: Plant-Based Meats or Animal Meats?

What’s Better for Your Heart: Plant-Based Meats or Animal Meats?

In the realm of nutrition science, the debate over the health benefits of plant-based diets versus animal-based diets continues to captivate researchers and health enthusiasts alike. A recent study conducted in Singapore aimed to shed light on this ongoing discussion by investigating the effects of plant-based “meats” compared to animal-based “real” meats on heart health among people at risk of diabetes.

The Plant-Based Meat vs Animal Meat Study

This study followed a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design, involving 89 participants. These individuals were instructed to replace their usual protein-rich foods with either plant-based meats or animal-based meats for a duration of eight weeks. There were 44 people randomized to the plant-based meats and 45 people randomized to the animal-based meats. Both groups were prescribed to consume 2.5 servings of their respective meat types daily, while maintaining the same intake of their other food.

What Plant-Based Meats Did They Eat in this Study?

During the study, participants in the plant-based meat diet group were offered a variety of plant-based meat alternatives to replace their usual animal-based meats. These included all of the plant-based “meats” that are designed to look, feel, and taste just like “real meat.” People randomized to this group were instructed to eat 2.5 servings daily of this stuff for 8 weeks. The researchers provided the study subjects with a new supply of plant-based meats every 3 days.

What Animal Meats Did They Eat in this Study?

For participants assigned to the animal-based meat diet group, their meals consisted of a selection of traditional animal-based meats. Additionally, frozen chicken nuggets were included as part of their dietary intake in this study. And this group randomized to usual meats were told to eat 2.5 servings of this non-wild, non-organic, non-grass fed meat daily. And like the plant-based meat group, they were given a fresh supply of new meat to eat from the researchers in this study every 3 days.

What Was Measured in This Study?

The primary outcome of interest in this study was LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), a key biomarker for assessing cardiovascular health. Additionally, the researchers evaluated secondary outcomes related to cardiometabolic disease risk factors, such as glucose levels and fructosamine. Moreover, a subset of participants underwent ambulatory blood pressure measurements, while others wore continuous glucose monitors to provide insights into glucose levels.

Results of This Study

Overall, while those randomized to the plant-based meats saw some positive changes in the quality of their diet and blood pressure. In contrast, those randomized to the animal-based meats seemed to have better control over their blood sugar levels.

The study didn’t find significant effects on other health outcomes including LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). In simple terms, the study showed that there wasn’t much difference in how plant-based meats and animal-based meats affected heart health.

Why Weren’t Plant-Based Meats Better for the Heart?

While many readers are probably surprised by the results of this study I wasn’t. I have always been very wary and have avoided these new highly processed “plant-based” meats. Despite the healthy halo the media gives these “plant-based” meats, in my opinion these new lab-engineered foods are not health foods.

Indeed, these new highly-processed “plant-based” meats don’t align with the natural diets of long-living cultures I’ve studied. In fact, during our 5-year study of the longest lived Chinese people that we published in our best-selling book, The Longevity Plan, we never saw any of these “plant-based” meats.

So, in my opinion as a cardiologist, both highly processed diets in this study were not optimal for heart health or for living longer. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see that there wasn’t any real difference between them. If your goal is to avoid heart disease and still be active and traveling the world at age 100, eating 2.5 servings daily of “plant-based” meats or 2.5 servings of frozen chicken nuggets daily probably isn’t going to get you there.

Can You Still Have a Veggie Burger?

When eating out with family or friends, I have always enjoyed an occasional old-fashioned, minimally processed veggie burger made from actual vegetables, beans, and spices. Gone are those days.

In fact, it is now quite difficult to even find a black bean burger, as the lab-engineered “plant-based” meats have taken over the menus. But if you can still find a veggie or bean burger that is actually made of vegetables and beans, with visible ingredients in the patty, it is probably a healthier choice.

What is the Healthiest Diet for the Heart and Longevity?

After examining the best medical research, the outcomes of my patients, and personally studying longevity cultures, I’ve found that the best diet for heart health and living longer is a mostly natural (not lab engineered) plant-based one. This means eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. And the longest living cultures around the world also have wild or naturally organic unprocessed meat 1-2 times a week (not the 2.5 servings daily of meats like the frozen chicken nuggets seen in this study). This is the diet I follow myself and encourage for my family’s well-being.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. The author has no conflicts of interest to declare regarding the study discussed in this article. The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Readers are encouraged to consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized recommendations regarding diet and health.

About the Photo

The image with this article shows the mountain biking trail I recently rode. This trail offers a sun-drenched route with picturesque views of Salt Lake City. As spring arrives, it serves as one of the first trails to thaw and dry out after the winter snow melts.

Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.