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Jun 05, 2018

Protein-Rich Diet is Not Ideal for Heart Failure Prevention

Some animal-based proteins are linked with a higher likelihood of heart failure, suggests study of Finnish men.

Increasing protein intake may not be the best option for heart health, based on a recent Finnish study linking a high-protein diet to increased risk for heart failure.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked at the link between diet and risk for heart failure. Specifically, it focused on the effects of meat and dairy versus plant-based proteins like nuts and beans to see if they had different impacts on heart health.

Some studies suggest that high levels of meat consumption may increase cardiovascular risk, while plant-based proteins like beans and nuts may protect heart health. However, it’s unclear how protein consumption impacts heart failure—a common condition that occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, which tracked the health of 2,441 Finnish men for over two decades. At the beginning of the study, participants kept a detailed record of their food intake for four days, in addition to undergoing various tests to assess their health. They were then followed for an average of 22 years for key outcomes like heart failure and death.

Participants were between 42 and 60 years old and free of heart conditions at the beginning of the study.

By the end of the study period, 14% of participants developed heart failure. After analysis, researchers found a trend between high-protein diets and increased risk for heart failure.

Overall, participants with the highest level of protein intake were 33% more likely to develop heart failure than those with the lowest protein intake. When looking at different types of protein, researchers found that animal-based protein was more strongly associated with heart failure than plant-based protein.

Animal-based proteins included any type of meat, seafood, dairy and eggs, while plant-based proteins included foods like grains, nuts, beans and seeds.

However, authors note that most associations were not considered statistically significant. Therefore, additional research is needed to confirm findings, especially in a more diverse group that includes both men and women.

Authors encourage further research into the effects of specific types of protein, as they may have unique impacts on heart health. For example, dairy products were associated with increased risk for heart failure in this study, while fish and egg consumption were not. With further research, experts hope to clarify findings and improve dietary guidelines for the prevention of heart failure.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

Featured Video

Do you know what a healthy portion should look like? Watch this video to learn more!


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Infographic: Heart Failure