Poultrymeat eaters are at a lower risk of suffering from a stroke compared to frequent red meat eaters, according to a US study.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health examined the influence different types of protein had on stroke risk, based on the type and how much protein thousands of men and women ate each day, over a 20-year period.

They found men and women who ate more than two servings of red meat each day were, respectively, at a 28% and 19% increased risk of stroke, compared with those who ate less than one serving (of approximately four ounces) each day.

However, people who ate the most chicken or turkey each day – about half a serving for women and three-quarters for men – reduced their risk of stroke by 13%.

The data suggested stroke risk could be reduced by substituting red meat with other protein sources. For example, replacing red meat with one daily serving of poultrymeat was found to lower the risk of stroke by 27%. Meanwhile a serving of nuts or fish was associated with a 17% decrease in risk, while a serving of dairy products lowered the risk by 10-11%.

Researchers did not prove beef is to blame for the increased number of strokes, but Adam Bernstein, lead author of the study, said the fat and iron in red meat could play a role.

But he was not surprised red meat eaters suffered from more strokes. “We have also done work on red meat and diabetes, and red meat and coronary heart disease. So it makes sense that these cardio-metabolic diseases are grouped together,” he told Reuters.

Strokes are the third most common cause of death in England and Wales, after heart disease and cancer, and account for 53,000 deaths every year.

The research results support an earlier study, led by Susanna Larsson, of Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who found women who ate a lot of red meat were at an increased risk of stroke. But the Harvard research is believed to be the first of its kind to cite poultry as being a protein source which might lower the risk of stroke.