Background: With the exception of fish, few major dietary protein sources have been studied in relation to the development of coronary heart disease (CHD). Our objective was to examine the relation between foods that are major dietary protein sources and incident CHD.
Methods and results: We prospectively followed 84,136 women aged 30 to 55 years in the Nurses' Health Study with no known cancer, diabetes mellitus, angina, myocardial infarction, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease. Diet was assessed by a standardized and validated questionnaire and updated every 4 years. During 26 years of follow-up, we documented 2210 incident nonfatal infarctions and 952 deaths from CHD. In multivariable analyses including age, smoking, and other risk factors, higher intakes of red meat, red meat excluding processed meat, and high-fat dairy were significantly associated with elevated risk of CHD. Higher intakes of poultry, fish, and nuts were significantly associated with lower risk. In a model controlling statistically for energy intake, 1 serving per day of nuts was associated with a 30% (95% confidence interval, 17% to 42%) lower risk of CHD compared with 1 serving per day of red meat. Similarly, compared with 1 serving per day of red meat, a lower risk was associated with 1 serving per day of low-fat dairy (13%; 95% confidence interval, 6% to 19%), poultry (19%; 95% confidence interval, 3% to 33%), and fish (24%; 95% confidence interval, 6% to 39%).
Conclusions: These data suggest that high red meat intake increases risk of CHD and that CHD risk may be reduced importantly by shifting sources of protein in the US diet.