New research has found that eating a diet high in red meat could increase levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical generated in the gut and linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

Carried out by researchers at Cleveland Clinic and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the small-scale study looked at 113 healthy men and women to see whether different sources of dietary protein -- red meat, white meat, or non-meat sources -- had different effects on TMAO production. 

Participants followed each of the three diets for one month, with the red meat diet including roughly the equivalent of about 8 ounces of steak daily, or two quarter-pound beef patties, daily. 

Also read: Tips for meat-eaters who recently turned vegetarian

The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, a publication of the European Society of Cardiology, showed that participants who ate a diet rich in red meat had triple the TMAO levels of those who eat a diet rich in either white meat or mostly plant-based proteins.

However, the good news is that the effect was reversible, with the researchers finding that removing red meat from the diet and switching to either a white meat or non-meat diet for another month significantly lowered the TMAO levels.

TMAO is formed by gut bacteria during digestion and comes partly from nutrients that which are found in red meat.

Also read: 5 veggies with more iron than meat 

Although the high level of saturated fat in red meat is known to contribute to heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, a number of new studies now suggest that TMAO may also increase the risk of the condition. 

"This study shows for the first time what a dramatic effect changing your diet has on levels of TMAO, which is increasingly linked to heart disease," said senior author Stanley L. Hazen, M.D., Ph.D. "It suggests that you can lower your heart disease risk by lowering TMAO."

Also read: How to make Pork Sorpotel at home 

"These findings reinforce current dietary recommendations that encourage all ages to follow a heart-healthy eating plan that limits red meat," added study author Charlotte Pratt, Ph.D. "This means eating a variety of foods, including more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, and plant-based protein sources such as beans and peas."

Image: Shutterstock

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