Could plant-based meat alternatives save your heart?

A newly published study shows that plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) are healthier for your heart than the real thing. This news will please my vegetarian son, but probably not his meat-loving brother – or their dad.

But before my vegetarian son gets the chance to make his other family members feel guiltier, let’s unpack the claim. The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, concludes that PBMAs show evidence of improving cardiovascular risk factors. So it is specifically your heart that’s the likely beneficiary of substituting PBMAs for red meat.

The study’s authors, shocked by how little previous research had been done in this area, decided to rectify this oversight. Lead author naturopathic doctor Matthew Nagra, from Vancouver, Canada, said: “While the plant-based meat market has experienced significant growth in recent years … surprisingly little is known about how these meat alternatives may impact health.”

In particular, the cardiovascular disease risk of PBMAs had almost no research devoted to it, Dr Nagra said. “Thus, we sought to review the available literature on the topic to identify what is currently known and to provide direction for future research.”

PBMAs and your heart

Despite the scant previous research on PBMAs, the researchers found there was plenty of available data to facilitate their aims. In fact they were able to review data stretching back more than half a century – from 1970 to 2023.

The study uncovered that there is substantial variability in the contents and nutritional profiles of PBMAs. Notwithstanding that variability, it found that PBMAs tended to have a more heart-healthy nutritional profile than meat. The authors did add a small caveat, though: “The high sodium content of some products may be of concern.”

Among the chief findings were that PBMAs improved some cardiovascular risk factors across several randomised controlled trials. Cholesterol levels were one of those improved factors.

The study also found that PBMAs showed no evidence of raising blood pressure, even in those with higher sodium content.

Is there any bad news?

While the study did not reveal any obvious concerns about PBMAs, it did highlight the need to tread warily. PBMAs may improve risk factors, they said, but a direct link to heart attack or stroke risk reduction wasn’t established. Longer term research is required to test this, the authors said.

The study also highlighted the lack of research into some of the key ingredients of PBMAs.  “There is currently very little research on wheat gluten and CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factors or outcomes,” the authors wrote.

On the other hand, the research found that PBMAs generally contain less saturated fatty acids (SFA) than meat. SFA is associated with an increased CVD risk. PBMAs also have a greater fibre content per serve on average, too. This adds to what the authors refer to as “a cardioprotective nutritional profile relative to meat”.

Switching to a meat-free diet is generally associated with an improved health profile, but there are potential risks. These include a risk of inadequate protein, vitamin and mineral intake. However, such risks are overcome by choosing the right vegetarian foods and, when necessary, supplements.

The verdict on PBMAs

In conclusion, my vegetarian son’s choices are almost certainly healthier than those of his brother or dad. But if you are considering moving to PBMAs too, it’s worth taking the time to compare the labels between products. Look for those with the lower salt count, and check the levels of protein, fibre and other healthy ingredients.

If you’re looking to lower your meat intake, PBMAs could well be a healthy part of your new diet.

Have you replaced your meat intake with PBMAs? Did it make a noticeable difference to your health? Let us know via the comments section below. 

Also read: AI tool successfully used to warn of heart attacks

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I’m 73 yrs old, switched to a vegan lifestyle seven years ago and have never been healthier or more energetic than now. Most vegans know they should supplement daily with vitamin B12 for blood and cell health as it’s only derived from animal products. Also include nuts or some legumes for adequate calcium and proteins especially those with a very active lifestyle.

    I get blood tests done every two years and so far the reports show improvements in calcium, cholesterol levels, blood platelettes, etc. If anyone is planning to make the switch, do as Andrew says, important to check the sodium levels of the processed meat alternatives. Even better, try some vegan or vegetarian recipes as there’s tonnes of brilliant ones available online free of charge. And of course this lifestyle is better for animals and the planet as well.

  2. Well done Barb!
    I’m not a vegetarian but don’t eat very much meat anymore mainly due to the cost.
    My blood test results are also improving.
    Another incentive for me is that my 93 year old vegetarian mother is in better condition than me.

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