While heart health is a complex thing, made up of lots of factors including those that are within your control and those that aren’t, it can be helpful to have a sense of how the foods that you eat could be affecting your body. A balanced diet full of nutritious whole foods can have a positive impact, while eating too much of certain kinds of unhealthy foods could be leaving you vulnerable to serious health conditions.
Now, new research finds that eating non-dairy animal fat—think red meat—can increase your stroke risk.
The study, which is being presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021, looked at more than 100,000 older adults over 27 years. Researchers found that people who ate the most non-dairy animal fat were 16% more likely to have a stroke than those who ate the least. And more specifically, the study authors found that those who ate red meat had an 8% higher risk of stroke, and those who ate processed red meat had a 12% higher risk.
Related: The Final Verdict on Whether Red Meat Is Good or Bad For You
The good news is that, when it comes to stroke risk, you don’t necessarily need to cut back on your cheese intake.
“One result surprised us was that when we analyzed animal fat as a whole, not differentiating between dairy and non-dairy animal fat, we did not observe a significant association,” the study’s lead author Fenglei Wang, Ph.D. told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. “Non-dairy fat, but not dairy fat, was significantly associated with a higher stroke risk.”
There is more good news for people who love fatty foods coming out of this one study. The researchers actually found that certain kinds of fats—vegetable fat and polyunsaturated fat—may actually decrease your stroke risk. In fact, people who ate the most of these fats were 12% less likely to have a stroke than those who ate the least.
So, if you want a rich, satisfying, and body-healthy meal, consider opting for a plant-based fat like olive oil.
“An easy way to enjoy more [vegetable] fats in your diet is to make your own salad dressing: mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar in a jar. Add a good dollop of Dijon mustard and drop or two of honey and pour over your favorite vegetables,” recommends Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, CH of Healthy Lifestyles.
If you’re baking, Kreiger suggests: “Choose light (in color not calories!) olive oil in homemade baked items, such as cakes and muffins to increase monounsaturated fats while decreasing saturated fats.”
If you want to learn more about the fats you eat that could be affecting your health, be sure to check out The 13 Best and Worst Types of Fats For Your Health.