Eat More Plant Proteins To Live Longer, Study Suggests

Now, somebody pass the lentils.

02/08/2016 10:17 | Updated 02 August 2016

If you want to live a long life, you might want to scrap red meat in favour of healthier plant proteins.

A new study found that proteins from animal sources such as processed and unprocessed red meats are associated with a higher risk of death.

Conversely, a high intake of plant proteins, from foods such as nuts, lentils and cereals, are linked to a longer life. 

Our findings suggest that people should consider eating more plant proteins than animal proteins, and when they do choose among sources of animal protein, fish and chicken are probably better choices,” said study co-author Mingyang Song from Massachusetts General Hospital.

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For those looking to take heed of expert advice and get more plant proteins into their diet, nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed from SR Nutrition has listed the best ones to try.

She says: “Plant-based diets have grown in popularity in recent years and, actually, plant-based diets are a food movement with a lot of benefits (and evidence) behind them.

“If you want to reduce the amount of animal proteins you’re having but not give them up completely, why not try ‘Meatless Monday’ and introduce some new plant-based meat alternatives into your diet just once a week?”

Her favourite plant-based proteins are:

  • Nuts and nut butters with no added sugar

    “Great foods and not just on toast.”

  • Seeds

    ”They don’t have to be expensive ‘super’ seeds, any are great. My favourite are flaxseeds as they pack an omega-3 punch too.”

  • Lentils

    ”Great addition to so many dishes, sauces and soups. Try adding some in place of the beef in spaghetti bolognese, for example.”

  • Chickpeas

    “Great to make your own hoummous or again to add to salads, soups and stews.”

  • Wholegrains

    “Foods like quinoa and buckwheat are also great plant sources of protein too.”

Her advice comes after scientists conducted the largest ever study to examine the effects of different sources of dietary protein.

The study analysed data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), which compiled comprehensive health data on more than 170,000 participants since the 1980s.

In addition to completing overall health questionnaires every two years, participants provided information on their dietary intake – specifically how often they consumed portions of particular types of food during the preceding year – every four years.

They analysed more than 30 years of data for NHS participants and 26 years of data for HPFS participants.

The results, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that during those time periods more than 36,000 deaths were documented among study participants – almost 9,000 from cardiovascular disease, around 13,000 from cancer and about 14,000 from other causes.


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A high consumption of protein from animal sources – any types of meat, eggs or dairy – was weakly associated with an increased rate of death.

Meanwhile high consumption of protein from plant sources – breads, cereals, pasta, beans, nuts and legumes – was associated with a lower mortality rate.

The link between animal protein intake and increased mortality risk only applied to participants with at least one factor associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, such as being obese, drinking too much alcohol, a history of smoking or not exercising enough. 

This link disappeared entirely in participants with a healthy lifestyle. 

The study also uncovered that a high mortality risk was linked to processed and unprocessed red meats, which include both beef and pork products, and not to protein from fish or poultry.

In response to the study’s findings, Jimmy Pierson, spokesperson for The Vegan Society, told The Huffington Post UK: “Here is yet another major piece of research condemning animal proteins in the strongest possible terms. It could hardly be any more endorsing of plant-based proteins, which are not only significantly better for our health, but also best for animals and the environmental future of planet.” 

He added: “The research keeps coming. Last year we had the World Health Organisation classifying processed meat as a cause of cancer in the same category as tobacco, adding to a growing body of independent research telling us that a well-balanced varied vegan diet can be very effective in protecting against a range of long term chronic health conditions like heart disease, several cancers, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and arthritis.

“As well as having lower mortality rates, vegans also, on average, have lower rates of obesity than any other dietary group.”

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