Replacing your sirloin steak with healthier protein-rich foods like fish or chicken may reduce your risk of heart disease, according to a new study.

"Our study shows that making substitutes for red meat or minimizing the amount of red meat in the diet has important health benefits," said study researcher Dr. Adam M. Bernstein,  post-doctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, in a statement.

Eating more fresh-cooked red meat, processed red meat and high-fat dairy products was associated with an increased risk of heart disease, according to the study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Circulation.

The study compiled data from questionnaires given to 84,136 women aged 30 to 55 years old (the majority of whom were Caucasian) during the 26-year long Nurses' Health Study, which took place from 1980 to 2006.

Compared with women who had an average of half a serving of red meat per day, women who had two servings of red meat per day had a 30 percent higher risk of developing coronary heart disease, the study determined.

Besides cutting down on red meat potions, the data also showed that eating more servings of poultry, fish and nuts is significantly associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease.

Here is how much the researchers calculated that the women who substituted a healthier source of protein for one serving of red meat each day cut down their risk of coronary heart disease:

  • 30 percent lower risk with one serving each day of nuts
  • 24 percent lower risk with one serving each day of fish
  • 19 percent lower risk with one serving each day of poultry
  • 13 percent lower risk with one serving each day of low-fat dairy products

"There are good protein-rich sources that do not involve red meat," Bernstein said. "You don't need to have hot dogs, hamburgers, bologna or pastrami, which are all fresh or processed meats."

On the questionnaire used in the Nurses' Health Study, the women recorded how often they had consumed a unit or portion of each food on average during the previous year, with nine possible responses ranging from "never" to "more than six times daily."

"Although this study included only women, our overall knowledge of risk factors for heart disease suggests that the findings are likely to apply to men as well," Bernstein said. "Those who are concerned and want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider replacing red meat with other protein-rich foods including fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products and nuts."