High-protein diets could increase the risk of heart failure by nearly 50%, according to a new study

  • A new study has found that middle-aged men who follow high-protein diets may be at higher risk of heart failure.
  • Among nearly 2,500 men between the ages of 42 and 60, those who ate the most animal protein and dairy were at a higher risk of developing heart failure than those who ate the least protein.
  • Only proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with heart failure risk in this study, the researchers said.
  • Further investigation is needed, as there is currently little research on the link between dietary protein and heart failure risk.


Middle-aged men who follow high-protein diets, such as the Atkins, may be at higher risk of heart failure, according to a new research.

The study published in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal, surveyed 2,441 men aged between 42 and 60 for an average period of 22 years. Over the course of the study, 334 cases of heart failure — when the body is unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to remain healthy — were diagnosed.

The researchers divided the participants into four groups based on the types of protein they consumed on a daily basis. They found that the men who ate the most animal protein and dairy were at a higher risk — 43% and 49% respectively — of developing heart failure than those who ate the least.

The men who ate all sources of protein were at a 33% higher risk, while those who consumed plant protein had a 17% risk.

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17 healthy foods that are actually dangerous to overeat
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17 healthy foods that are actually dangerous to overeat

Broccoli

First off, it's worth highlighting that most people don't even come close to getting as many vegetables as they should in their daily diet, so don't use this as an excuse to avoid the greens you need. Think of this warning as inspiration to eat the rainbow when it comes to your vegetables. "Broccoli is a superfood that is packed with potent antioxidants known to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, but when eaten in very large amounts, broccoli may lead to hypothyroidism (low thyroid)," say the Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. "This is because they contain thiocyanates, which can make it difficult for your body to absorb iodine. If you're someone who has dealt with thyroid issues in the past, be sure not to consume very large amounts of broccoli." In moderation, though, find out what broccoli can do for your blood sugar.

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Lemon water

The list of health experts and fitness influencers who swear by their morning lemon water is seemingly infinite. "It's a very low-calorie, low-sugar beverage that encourages drinking," explain The Nutrition Twins. "It helps you stay hydrated with its fresh flavor while also providing some immune-boosting vitamin C and antioxidants that may help to protect your cells from damage. However, if you drink a lot of lemon water, the acid from the lemon stays on your teeth and can damage your tooth enamel, which makes your teeth prone to cavities." If you do drink a lot of lemon water, the twins recommend rinsing your mouth afterward and drinking with a straw to minimize contact with your teeth. Here are 12 more potential reasons to love lemon water.

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Almond or plant-based milks

The problem with cow milk alternatives, such as almond, oat, hemp, soy, coconut, and rice milks, is that they're often very processed and have lots of added sugars. In fact, these plant-based milks usually have little of the actual plant, says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "A glass of the average almond milk, for example, only has about four almonds," he says. Here's why you should stop giving your kids nondairy milks.

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Coconut oil

"More accurately, coconut fat at room temperature is solid owing to its near-total saturated fat content," says Ayoob. Contrary to coconut oil's popularity among the foodie glitterati, there's no actual science to suggest coconut oil is healthy, he says. "Go for extra-virgin olive oil, or canola, grape-seed, or other unsaturated oils as a healthier alternative. And watch out for portion size: No matter the type of oil you're using, they all have lots of calories, so use them sparingly," Ayoob warns. Check out these other compelling reasons to avoid cooking with coconut oil.

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Tuna fish

Tuna is a versatile and inexpensive source of protein, magnesium, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. "If, however, you're choosing solid albacore or tuna steaks several times a week, you're likely getting too much mercury, which is a neurotoxin," say the Nutrition Twins. "Mercury poisoning can lead to muscle weakness and vision changes." To avoid any danger, they recommend for the light tuna instead of albacore if you eat tuna regularly. "Pregnant women and children are advised to choose the lowest mercury-containing fish and limit their intake to no more than two times per week." Here's a guide to how much fish you can eat safely.

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Kimchi

Kimchi—a type of pickled cabbage—is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and gut-healthy prebiotic fiber, say the Nutrition Twins. Plus, the kick of flavor is a tasty way to eat your veggies. But it also happens to be high in sodium—the 670 milligrams in a single 100-gram serving translates to almost a third of your recommended maximum sodium intake, they warn. "Combining a few servings of kimchi with the foods you eat in your day and you'll go well beyond the sodium limit, increasing your risk of developing high blood pressure and congestive heart failure," the twins say. That said, kimchi makes the list of 15 foods that nutritionists try to eat every day—in moderation!

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Green tea

Most people can drink green tea with no worries: "It's packed with catechins, powerful antioxidants that help fend off cancer, inflammation, and heart disease," say the Nutrition Twins. "However, the tannins found in green tea can also interfere with the absorption of non-heme iron (iron from plant-based sources), so if you have low iron levels or are at risk for iron deficiency (some athletes, elderly, pregnant women, and vegetarians who don't consume enough iron) avoid drinking green tea with meals and just drink it between them." Look out for these silent signs of an iron deficiency.

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Red wine

Red wine can help boost wellness, but the dose is key. "Red wine can be heart healthy and part of a healthful Mediterranean diet, in modest amounts," says Ayoob. "A modest amount is defined as one five-ounce glass per day for women, two glasses for men." Just don't plan on going dry six days out of the week so that you can guzzle half a dozen glasses of wine on Saturday night. "It's use 'em or lose 'em," says Ayoob. "No saving them up for a big blast on the weekend." And he warns that booze of any kind doesn't mix well with many medications; check with your doctor about the safety of wine with your prescriptions. Learn what happens to your body when you drink a glass of red wine every day.

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Grapefruit and other citrus fruits

While citrus fruits are healthy for most people, Ayoob points out that grapefruit, tangelos, minneolas, pummelos, and more can interfere with a long list of medications, including some statins and antihistamines. "Interaction varies with the medication, but can result in very high blood levels of the drug, or sometimes decreased absorption of the drug, when taken within 72 hours of consuming these citrus fruits." If you're taking medication, always check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you can safely consume citrus fruits. Find out which other 17 "healthy" foods can actually be bad for you.

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High-fiber foods

When it comes to weight loss, fiber—the part of a carbohydrate your body can't digest—is incredibly important. It swells in the stomach to make you feel fuller longer, meaning you can lose weight without hunger. However, if you're not used to plenty of fiber in your diet, eating too much at once can cause gas and bloating. "This is typical but annoying and can be socially awkward," says Ayoob. "You really need to introduce fiber gradually and consistently if you're used to a low-fiber diet." Find out what happens to your body when you start eating more fiber.

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Cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts

"These are great foods with tons of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins," says Ayoob. "The problem for people on blood-thinning medications, like warfarin, is that they're high in vitamin K, a nutrient that helps blood to clot." (Here are 17 more medication mistakes that could make you sick.) Unless you're at high risk for blood clots, though, the vegetables are good for you.

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Brown rice

While brown rice can be a source of whole grains, it may have higher levels of inorganic arsenic, depending on where it's grown. "Arsenic is present in water and soil and as a result of polluted runoff that can drain into groundwater," explains Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, CLC. "This, in turn, increases the arsenic content of water in some areas where brown rice is grown. Issues arise with frequent and consistent exposure; thus, eating brown rice and products with brown rice derivatives every day can result in higher exposure to arsenic." She advises rinsing your brown rice and varying the type of grains you eat. Don't miss these other high-carb foods that could kill you.

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Juices

You might think drinking juice is just like eating fresh whole fruits, but juices are mostly sugar and they don't have any of the belly-filling fiber you get when you eat real fruit. "Consumers are often confused about this and feel that having juice on a regular basis is a healthy choice," says Feller. "The solution, skip the juice and have the whole fruit." Check out these other 13 healthy swaps that will cut your sugar intake.

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Protein powder

Protein is vital for both losing weight and building lean muscle. The average healthy person needs about 1.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight, depending on age, physical activity level, and other health-related variables, says Feller. Does this mean the average person should start to take a protein powder supplement as a part of their daily routine? "I would advise not," she says. "Most of us can meet our protein needs by following a healthy balanced diet. Excessive protein intake can strain the kidneys." Also, some supplements may be contaminated with heavy metals. Feller recommends that you "get clear guidance from a credentialed professional around protein supplementation." Watch out for these silent signs you're eating too much protein.

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Water

We all need plenty of water—and most Americans don't get enough. In fact, we often confuse our thirst for hunger, warns Feller. "However the other side of the coin is over-hydration," says Feller. "Drinking too much water over a short period of time can disturb electrolyte imbalance and in turn result in dangerously low sodium levels." That said, this usually only occurs, she says, if someone drinks gallons of water over a short period of time. Learn the silent signs that you're drinking too much water.

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Nutmeg

Spices are a healthy, low-calorie alternative to heavy sauces and condiments. But a little goes a long way when it comes to adding flavor. "I'm a huge fan of spices—I just wrote a book on their health benefits," says Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of Spice Up, Slim Down, and founder of SpiceFit. "They're loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, but in the case of nutmeg, consuming excessive amounts may have a hallucinatory effect and can lead to nutmeg poisoning due to one of the active chemicals in the seeds called myristicin." If you overdo it, you could experience intense nausea, dizziness, and extreme dry mouth. But you'd need to eat at least a tablespoon before you were at risk of any of those effects, so putting a dash in your eggnog or adding a teaspoon to a recipe is totally safe, says Dr. Jampolis.

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Spinach

Before you cut out Popeye's fuel, remember that most people don't get nearly enough leafy greens, including spinach, in their diet. "This is unfortunate because leafy greens are a terrific low-calorie source of vitamins and minerals including magnesium, lutein, folic acid, and vitamin K," says Dr. Jampolis. "But for people with the most common type of kidney stones, calcium oxalate, too much spinach could be problematic, as it contains high levels of oxalate, which could lead to kidney stones in those at risk." Don't miss these other everyday mistakes that put your kidneys in trouble.

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Higher intake of protein from most dietary sources was associated with slightly higher risk, the researchers said, adding that only proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with heart failure risk in this study.

"As many people seem to take the health benefits of high protein diets for granted, it is important to make clear the possible risks and benefits of these diets," said Dr Jyrki Virtanen, study author and an adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland.

He added that earlier studies have linked diets high in protein — especially from animal sources — with increased risks of Type 2 diabetes and even death.

The authors of the study concluded that as there is currently little research on the link between dietary protein and heart failure risk, further research is needed before they can say that moderating protein intake would help to prevent it.

RELATED: Signs you're headed for a heart attack 

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Signs you're headed for a heart attack

You get angry over the littlest things

Tend to morph into the Hulk when you’re upset? Those fiery emotions can drastically increase your risk for a heart attack. Researchers at the University of Australia questioned 313 patients who had suffered suspected heart attacks about their anger levels before the onset of symptoms. They found that patients were 8.5 times more likely to have a heart attack in the two hours following an intense outburst of anger, defined as “very angry, body tense, clenching fists or teeth.” The more often you’re angry, the higher your chances for a heart attack. These 15 doctor-approved tips to prevent heart disease could save your life.

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You spend most of your time in front of a screen

Yes, that includes working on your computer. A study from the University College London reports that people who watch TV or work on a computer for four or more hours a day increase their risk of an event associated with cardiovascular disease, like a heart attack, by 125 percent. Long periods of sitting deplete the body’s supply of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that breaks down fat and prevents clogged arteries. If you spend most of your day plopped behind a desk, take a brief walk after every 20 minutes or try a standing desk. You can burn 30 percent more calories when you stand than when you sit.  Here are a cardiologist’s tips for sneaking in exercise.

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You log less than six hours of sleep each night

Many adults struggle to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but consistently missing that mark could be deadly. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health found that Japanese men who got less than six hours of sleep were five times more likely to have a heart attack than men who slept seven or eight hours a night. Another study from Jichi Medical School in Tochigi, Japan, found the same risk applied to Japanese women who got less than six hours of sleep. Learn how to prevent heart disease with these 30 simple tips.

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You live in a smoggy area

Smog is just as bad for your heart as it is for your lungs. Researchers used hourly air pollution measurements in South Boston to determine how exposure to particulate matter (small combustion particles that come from fuel burning and vehicle emissions) affected patients in this area who had heart attacks. They found that exposure to high concentrations of air pollution increased the likelihood of a heart attack by 48 percent in the two hours before patients first experienced heart attack symptoms. The risk went up to 69 percent when people were exposed to high levels of air pollution for 24 hours before the onset of symptoms. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to see how smog affects your neighborhood.

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You're divorced

Divorce can cause literal heartache. Researchers at the Duke University School of Medicine conducted an 18-year-study of nearly 16,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 80 who had been married at least once. Every two years, researchers assessed the participants’ marital status and overall health. Divorced women were 25 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who stayed married. Women who had two or more divorces were 77 percent more likely to have a heart attack. As for the men, the risk of heart attack stayed the same regardless of whether they were married or divorced—at first. But if they divorced at least twice, their heart attack risk increased by 30 percent.

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It's Daylight Savings Time

When researchers examined three years of Michigan hospital records to track the number of heart attacks that required stent insertions, they found that the frequency of these procedures fluctuated when Daylight Saving Time started and ended. On the Monday after “springing ahead” an hour, there was an 24 percent increase in heart attacks. (However, on the Tuesday after “falling back,” there were 21 percent fewer daily heart attacks). Since the total heart attack counts for those weeks were not drastically different from other weeks, researchers determined that the time changes didn’t necessarily make the heart attacks happen, but rather made them likely to occur sooner than they otherwise would have. This is probably due to disrupted sleep-wake cycles and increased stress at the start of a new week of work. Here are tricks to make the Daylight Saving switch less toxic to your heart.

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You live in an area with extreme temperatures

Studies show that both extreme cold and extreme heat can put people at risk for heart attacks. Using data from cardiac patients in the Worcester Heart Attack Study, scientists found that exposure to temperatures lower than 17º F in the two days prior to a heart attack increased patients’ risk by 36 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, British researchers found that once the temperature reaches 68º F, each increase of 1.8º F increased the risk of heart attack by 2 percent over the next one to six hours. On the first day of a hot spell, that risk jumps up to 6.5 percent per 1.8º F increase. Learn what heart doctors do to protect their own hearts.

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A separate study that was recently presented at the World Congress on Acute Heart Failure in Vienna found that eating protein can help patients with heart failure to live longer.

The research investigated the association between protein intake and survival in 2,281 patients, with an average age of 68 years, and who were all diagnosed with heart failure.

The participants were divided into groups based on the amount of protein they consumed daily, which was estimated from their urine. The association with mortality was then assessed. At the end of the 21-month period, 31% of patients who ate the least amount of protein — 40 grams or less per day — had died compared to 18% of respondents who consumed the most — 70 grams or more per day.

RELATED: Best and worst protein choices 

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The Best Protein Choices and Worst for Your Health and the Environment
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The Best Protein Choices and Worst for Your Health and the Environment

Learn which proteins are best (and worst) for you and the world around you.

1. Lentils: Eat These Often

The most climate-friendly protein. We love lentils because they deliver fiber and nutrients, such as iron and folate.

2. Tomatoes: Eat These Often

Eating more fruits and vegetables can help ward off disease. They’re low in fat and calories and give you fiber and important micronutrients. But, EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors note, they don’t provide much protein (1 gram per tomato), so also make sure to include higher protein sources in your diet.

3. Milk: Drink This Often

Choose organic and/or milk from grass-fed cows. EatingWell editors recommend choosing nonfat or low-fat (1%) milk. Buying local milk will have a lower carbon footprint, too. Look for milk that is rBGH-free (growth hormone).

4. Beans: Eat These Often

Beans deliver protein, fiber and nutrients. Opt for dry beans, when you can, for the lowest carbon footprint.

5. Tofu: Eat These Often

Excellent source of plant protein. Keep in mind that if the label doesn't say USDA Certified Organic or non-GMO, there is a good chance it was made from genetically-modified soybeans.

6. Broccoli: Eat This Often

Broccoli gives you only 2 grams of protein per cup, so while it is a low-carbon food (and great for your health), the EatingWell Nutrition Editors note that you’ll need to include higher-protein sources in your diet.

7. Yogurt: Eat This Often

Choose organic and low-fat or nonfat yogurt when possible.

8. Nuts: Eat These Often

High in protein and healthy monounsaturated fats.

9. Peanut Butter: Eat This Often

EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors recommend looking for natural peanut butter to avoid extra sugar and partially hydrogenated oils.

10. Rice: Eat This Often

The EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors recommend choosing brown rice since it is less processed than white, retaining the fiber and other nutrients. Whole grains, such as quinoa or millet are also good choices.

11. Potatoes: Eat These Often

Buy organic when possible, since conventionally grown potatoes tend to be high in pesticide residues (they’re on the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce most contaminated with pesticides.)

12. Eggs: Eat These Occasionally

For the lowest environmental impact, pick organic and/or pasture-raised. Look for certified humane.

13. Tuna: Eat These Occasionally

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors choose light tuna to reduce mercury exposure.

14. Chicken: Eat This Occasionally

Best meat pick. EatingWell’s Nutrition Editors recommend that you cook it skinless to minimize saturated fat intake. Opt for organic, pasture-raised or antibiotic free for the lowest environmental impact.

15. Turkey: Eat These Occasionally

Poultry has the lowest carbon footprint of any meat, and turkey is a good choice. Opt for organic or antibiotic-free, but avoid less healthy processed forms (cold cuts, sausage, etc.).

16. Salmon: Eat These Occasionally

Choose wild salmon over farmed, when possible for the lowest carbon footprint. EatingWell’s nutrition editors note that salmon adds healthy omega-3s to your diet, so eat it and other fatty fish a few times a week.

17. Pork: Eat This Less

Choose pasture-raised, certified humane, when possible. For your health and the environment, skip processed pork, like bacon.

18. Cheese: Eat This Less

Stick to a single serving (1.5 ounces for hard cheese)—plus using a sharply flavored cheese can help you get the maximum impact for less. The EWG also recommends choosing organic and low-fat cheese, when possible. EWG lists cheese as the 3rd worst protein choice in part because they looked at 4 ounces of cheese—that’s almost three 1.5-ounce servings!

19. Beef: Eat This Less

Look for grass-fed and organic. Although pricier than conventional, it’s a healthier choice for you and the environment. Grass-fed beef is richer in heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Plus, organic, grass-fed cattle are raised in a way that minimizes the carbon emissions from manure. The EWG also recommends avoiding processed beef products, such as sausage.

20. Lamb: Eat This Less

The EWG ranked lamb as the worst choice based on carbon footprint and recommends choosing grass-fed, when possible. Since it’s not widely eaten in the United States, it plays a smaller role in carbon impact than beef, however.

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