Women who are habituated to eating red meat might be at an increased risk of developing heart disease at a later stage in life, a new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University suggests.

The research team, led by Dr. Adam M. Bernstein, collected data related to more than 80,000 women aged between 30 and 55 years who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study between 1980 and 2006. The team at the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston then analyzed the data to find that there were 2,210 non-fatal heart attacks and 952 deaths.

The research team found that women who ate the most red meat were at the highest risk of a heart attack while eating fish and nuts seemed to be associated with a considerably lower risk of contacting heart disease.

Women should try and substitute fish, poultry, nuts and low-fat dairy products in their diets to reduce the risk of heart disease at a later stage, the authors say. Previous studies have shown Americans to be overly concerned about protein content in their diet though the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention believes most of them have enough, if not a surplus of protein in their diet.

Given this scenario, Americans should cut down on their intake of dairy foods and meat products, the researchers argue while pointing out that for most people it is next to impossible to give up their daily quota of cheese, butter and ham.

The results of the study, reported in the online edition of health magazine Circulation, says that women should prefer a peanut-butter and banana sandwich for lunch in lieu of opting for a cheese and ham variety.

The publisher of the journal circulated a press release quoting Dr. Bernstein that the study only included women but there is enough understanding of the risk factors that suggests the findings may well apply to men as well.