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The task of eating for muscle growth has just gotten a little more problematic, with new research linking meat consumption to an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The findings suggest that if your desire to live a long life is stronger than your yearning for shirt-splitting brawn, then your best play would be replace at least some of the meat you devour daily with nuts and seeds.

While lacking the heartiness and aroma of a sizzling steak, nuts and seeds actually protect your heart, according the new study, published this week in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

“Protein-based factor analysis showed that a high contribution of protein from meat increased risk of CVD mortality, whereas a high contribution of protein from nuts and seeds is protective,” the study says.

S and French researchers presented their findings after examining the dietary habits of more than 80,000 men and women from the Adventist Health Study-2.

Noting that many of the Adventists, for religious reasons, either did not eat meat or restricted the type and quantity of the meat they did eat, the study authors observed that consumption of animal proteins increased CVD risk. In contrast, plant-based proteins lowered CVD risk before the onset of old age.

“Our results suggest that healthy choices can be advocated based on protein sources, specifically preferring diets low in meat intake and with a higher intake of plant proteins from nuts and seeds,” they wrote.

The findings are a blow to advocates of the Paleo Diet, which elevates meat-eating at the expense of grains like rice and oats, as well as legumes such as beans and chickpeas.

Going vegan on the basis of this study would be premature, however, given that leading health authorities, such as Australia’s NHMRC, see a place for meat (rich in protein, iron, zinc and B-group vitamins) in a healthy diet.

Experts have long been at pains to distinguish between processed meats (like salami, ham and bacon), which have been conclusively linked with an increased cancer risk, and lean, skinless, fresh meats (especially white varieties, including fish), which haven’t been.

The NHMRC’s Dietary Guidelines recommend a maximum of seven serves of lean red meat per week. A serve is not a plate-sized slice of cow, however. It’s 65 grams, or roughly the size of your palm.

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