Red meat and eggs should be off the menu for people with peripheral artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries that affects an estimated 27 million people in North America and Europe, a new study shows. The culprit is TMAO, a chemical byproduct produced in the gut during the digestion of certain foods that researchers say dramatically increases the risk of dying early, reports WebMD. Previous studies have shown a link between high levels of TMAO (short for trimethylamine N-oxide) in the blood and heart attack and stroke. Now, a new study of 800 men and women at the Cleveland Clinic found that those with peripheral artery disease and high levels of TMAO were nearly three times more likely to die within five years than those with low levels of the chemical in their blood. The average age of the participants, who were followed for five years, was 66.
For people with high TMAO levels, "more aggressive dietary counseling is warranted," says lead researcher Dr. W.H. Wilson Tang, per WebMD. Writing in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Tang and his team wrote that foods typical in Western diet such as eggs, red meat, and meat products are major sources of TMAO production. "Vegetarians or vegans or those who eat a Mediterranean diet, however, have lower TMAO levels," he says. Dr. Robert Eckel, of the American Heart Association, said the findings are further proof that daily diet matters. "The idea is to consume a diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, and legumes, while limiting red meat and fat," he told WebMD. (This chef bragged about spiking vegans' food with meat.)