A study published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine journal suggests that diets with reduced sulfur amino acids—which occur in protein-rich foods, such as meats, dairy, nuts, and soy—may be associated with a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. A subcategory, called sulfur amino acids, including methionine and cysteine, play various roles in metabolism and health. To study the effect of excessive dietary intake of sulfur amino acids on human health, the researchers examined the diets and blood biomarkers of more than 11,000 participants in the Third National Examination and Nutritional Health Survey. They compiled a composite cardiometabolic disease risk score based on the levels of certain biomarkers in participants’ blood after a 10–16-hour fast, including cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin. Individuals with a history of heart disease and those who reported not consuming at least 15 mg/kg of sulfur amino acids a day were excluded from the study.

Nutritionists collected information about participants’ diets by doing in-person 24-hour recalls. They then calculated the nutrient intakes using the U.S. Department of Agriculture Survey Nutrient Database.

After accounting for body weight, the researchers found that the average sulfur amino acid intake was almost two and a half times higher than the estimated average requirement. The researchers found that higher sulfur amino acid intake was associated with a higher composite cardiometabolic risk score after accounting for potential confounders like age, sex, and history of diabetes and hypertension. They also found that high sulfur amino acid intake was associated with every type of food except grains, vegetables, and fruit.

“Meats and other high-protein foods are generally higher in sulfur amino acid content,” said Zhen Dong, lead author of the study and graduate of Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine, in a university press release. “People who eat lots of plant-based products like fruits and vegetables will consume lower amounts of sulfur amino acids. These results support some of the beneficial health effects observed in those who eat vegan or other plant-based diets.”

Press release


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