Want Heart Failure? Try the Atkins Diet…

A recent study1 followed 2,441 men aged 44 to 60 years of age for a period of 22 years. They found a correlation between increased protein intake and the risk of dying from heart disease (CHD – coronary heart disease). Bearing in mind that the Atkins, keto the other low carb diets all emphasise the importance of consuming lots of animal protein, if you want to increase your risk of dying from a dodgy ticker, it’s time to cram in those cheeseburgers…

Plant protein also identified as increasing CHD risk

Interestingly, the study also found an increased CHD risk with increased consumption of plant protein – mainly from grains and potatoes. I would suggest that there would not be many (if any) of these 2,441 men who were eating a WFPB diet, so it’s likely that it wasn’t the whole food plants that were causing the problem, but the way in which they were processed and prepared – there’s a whole world of difference in health effects between consuming the wheat contained in the pastry of an apple pie and simply boiling and eating the whole wheat berry; and your old ticker will tolerate a boiled spud but is certain to get hot and bothered when confronted with plates of greasy deep fried French fries. But, the study did not reveal details about the nature of the plant protein eaten – and the devil’s always in the detail.

The breakdown of risks

For this study, researchers divided the men into four groups based on their daily protein consumption. When they compared men who ate the most protein to those who ate the least, they found their risk of heart failure was:

  • 33 percent higher for all sources of protein
  • 43 percent higher for animal protein
  • 49 percent higher for dairy protein
  • 17 percent higher for plant protein

No problem with eggs and fish

The study found no significant correlation between CHD and increased intake of eggs and fish. Does this mean you can cram in the tuna omelettes to your heart’s content without any worry? I don’t think so. I’ve already given ample evidence of why chicken periods (that is, unfertilised ovum – which are, after all, what they are)2 and PCB with fins (that’s what you’re likely to be eating when you tuck into your salmon en croute)3 , so I won’t bother repeating the hazards of these two forms of animal protein.

The cracked egg

However, I can’t resist mentioning the findings of one recent meta-analysis4 that looked at a wider population range and their CHD risk in relation to egg consumption: “Our meta-analysis suggests an elevated risk of incident HF with frequent egg consumption.” HF doesn’t mean “High Fives”, by the way; rather, it’s heart failure. This hasn’t stopped the American Heart Association from buckling under pressure from the egg industry, though5 – shameful pandering IMHO, considering the evidence.

The fishy facts

Oh, and, while I’m here, the idea that fish is 100% okay to eat – so long as it’s by some miracle eaten without all the dioxins and mercury, etc – is not a given.  When you eat fish you are also eating plenty of fishy cholesterol and fishy saturated fat6 . Whatever the above study says, fish is not a health food.7 As Dr John McDougall says: “In terms of your health: a muscle is a muscle is a muscle – whether it moves a limb, flaps a wing, or swishes a tail.8

How would you like your fish – fried or boiled?

And another quick point about fish consumption – if you are going to further deplete the already critically decimated fish populations left in our oceans, lakes and rivers, then research9 10 shows it’s better to boil rather than fry it – better for your health, that is, and not for the fish’s.

Protein is protein is protein – or is it?

It’ll be no surprise, if you’ve studied the research data, that increased consumption of animal protein is bad for you – not just in relation to CHD, but also in relation to cancer11 , diabetes12 ,  kidney disease13 and other chronic diseases. However, what did raise one of my eyebrows (just a bit, mind you) was the association referred to above between plant protein and increased CHD risk. I know I have explained a possible reason why this might have been flagged up in the study, but I want to leave the last word on this to Dr Thomas Campbell14 , who along with his father, Dr T Colin Campbell, knows a thing or two about animal protein and its proven health risks. Dr Thomas Campbell refers to a study15 of two large American populations (female nurses and male health professionals), which showed that those who ate the most animal protein (compared to plant protein) had a higher risk of death, particularly from cardiovascular disease. He goes on to say:

Breaking it down into specific foods, researchers found that when 3% of energy from plant protein was substituted for an equivalent amount of processed red meat protein, there was a 34% lower risk of death…These findings are even more impressive when you consider the fact that researchers controlled for age, intake of different types of fat, total energy intake, glycemic index, and intake of whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables, smoking, body mass index, vitamin use, physical activity, alcohol intake, history of high blood pressure. In other words, they statistically eliminated many of the beneficial components of plant-based diets to try to isolate the sole effect of dietary protein and still found an effect. When data was adjusted only for age, total energy and fat intake, those consuming the most plant protein were found to have 33% reduced risk of death, 40% reduced risk of cardiovascular death, and 28% reduced risk of cancer death.

His conclusion is that, even if you’re going to eat a meat and processed food-based diet, “…there are likely to be survival benefits to accrue from incorporating more plant-based sources of protein.

And I suggest that you try to ensure that they are unprocessed, whole plant-food proteins and not those fragmented bits of plants that fill the supermarket shelves.

The study was also written about in the Daily Telegraph16 , Medical Xpress17 , Independent18 , Daily Mail19 and elsewhere. A good sign, perhaps, that at least some useful dietary news is being covered.


  1. Intake of Different Dietary Proteins and Risk of Heart Failure in Men. The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Heli E.K. Virtanen, Sari Voutilainen, Timo T. Koskinen, Jaakko Mursu, Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen, Jyrki K. Virtanen. Circulation: Heart Failure. []
  2. Eggs are Bad For You – Don’t Believe the Lies []
  3. But I thought Fish Was Good For Me! []
  4. Khawaja O, Singh H, Luni F, Kabour A, Ali SS, Taleb M, Ahmed H, Gaziano JM, Djoussé L. Egg consumption and incidence of heart failure: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Front Nutr. 2017;4:10. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00010. []
  5. New dietary guidelines for Americans remove limits on dietary cholesterol and recommend eggs in healthy eating patterns []
  6. Don’t Take The Bait: Fish Is Not A Health Food. PCRM. []
  7. Is Fish Part of a Healthy Diet? Nutritionstudies.org. []
  8. Fish Are Not Health Food Infographic. Dr John McDougall. []
  9. Mozaffarian D, Bryson CL, Lemaitre RN, Burke GL, Siscovick DS. Fish intake and risk of incident heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005;45:2015–2021. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2005.03.038. []
  10. Belin RJ, Greenland P, Martin L, Oberman A, Tinker L, Robinson J, Larson J, Van Horn L, Lloyd-Jones D. Fish intake and the risk of incident heart failure: the Women’s Health Initiative. Circ Heart Fail. 2011;4:404–413. doi: 10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.110.960450. []
  11. The Problem with Protein []
  12. Why Is Meat a Risk Factor for Diabetes? Michael Greger M.D. FACLM August 21st, 2015 Volume 26 []
  13. Animal Protein & Your Kidneys []
  14. Animal Protein Linked to Death. August 1, 2016. By Thomas Campbell, MD []
  15. Song M, Fung T, Hu FB, et al. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med 2016. []
  16. Atkins diet may cause heart failure, major new protein study finds []
  17. High protein diet associated with small increased heart failure risk in middle-aged men
    May 29, 2018, American Heart Association []
  18. High protein diets like Atkin’s may increase risk of heart failure, finds study []
  19. Middle-aged men who eat plenty of lean meats to get fit face a 43% higher risk of heart failure, finds study. []