This week, vegans scored some major points in the plants versus animals war they've been fighting with the Paleo people for, what seems like eons now.
A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health, headed by Godfather of Epidemiology himself - Professor Walt Willet (helloooo science crush!) found that high intakes of animal protein (from meat, fish & dairy) are associated with all-cause mortality - that's death to you and me. And this effect was especially pronounced among people who get most of their protein from red meat (I mean, are we even still surprised by this??).
Flipping it around, they also found that people who got most of their protein from plant based sources tended to get less disease (disease generally leads to death, ya know?).
I can hear you all screaming " CORRELATION DOESN'T PROVE CAUSATION"
Doy. Just shut up and listen/read/whatever.
This is the latest study in a growing pile of evidence that's about to avalanche on our asses suggesting that high intakes of animal protein are, at the very least, contributing towards our leading causes of disease and death. For more on this, see this article I wrote on protein. This year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in the US recommended that Americans should move towards a more plant based diet; it won't be long until we follow suit.
And let's be real, this wasn't a study of ten or so people - this paper followed over 130,000 men and women - some of them for more than 30 years. They closely assessed the diets of these people using robust (i.e. validated) measurement tools (being a macronutrient, estimates of protein intake are fairly reliable as intake doesn't fluctuate much) and then looked at how these people popped their clogs. It took them 2 years to analyse all the data because they were doing all kinds of tricky statistical analysis to make sure they controlled for potentially confounding variables, like smoking, alcohol consumption, and exercise.
What they found is that animal protein is associated with more death from disease, particularly cardiovascular disease, and this association was strongest for people who engaged in 1 or more unhealthy behaviour (like smoking, being physically inactive, or heavy drinking). Another important finding was that substituting animal protein for plant protein could have substantial health benefits.
Why? Well, no one knows exactly - the authors of this study speculate it could be to do with increased levels of insulin like growth factor (IGF1) from animal products- which plays a role in aging, but is also linked to cancer (esp. breast and prostate) and type II diabetes. Plus, plant protein is associated with lower blood pressure, better insulin regulation (aka better blood sugar control), and lower levels of the bad type of cholesterol. Makes sense when you think about it, plant foods are loaded with fibre, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Your beef burger? Not so much.
Look, you don't need me to tell you to eat more plant foods. Everyone knows we should be eating more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. BUT, maybe you're ready to start making changes to your diet - so how can you start subbing animal proteins with more plant based ones? Here are some simple and easy things to help you cut back on animal proteins while still meeting your protein requirements.
1. Ditch the Dairy
Ok, low hanging fruit, I know. But try subbing non-sweetened almond milk in your tea or breakfast cereal. I love Oatly and Rude Health milk where they don't add anything weird or unnecessary. Try spreading low-fat hummus on your sandwiches instead of spread and make this dairy free cheese sauce to pour over veggies or pasta.
2. No Beef (Burgers).
This can be as simple as picking up some veggie & bean burgers at the shops (I like these ones), or making your own - check out these chipotle black bean burgers for a good protein hit, without skipping the iron - add a side of broccoli to go turbo.
3. Beans beans, they're good for your heart...
Trying mixing your usual chilli with a plant based one using different beans and lentils (this recipe is dope). Beans and legumes have consistently been (bean!) associated with longer lifespan. Get them in your soups, salads, and wherever you can for a protein boost, but also fibre, minerals, and phytoprotectants.
4. Mix up your grains.
Nobody realises that grains are actually a great source of protein - a ½ cup serving of porridge has 13g of protein. A half-cup of polenta has around 6 g of protein, and ½ cup of quinoa has 4g. The equivalent serving of brown rice has around 2.5g, so try mixing it up.
No one is saying you have to give up animal products entirely, but being a little more conscious of your choices, and adding more fruits, veg, beans, nuts, and seeds can only do you good. What kind of nutritionist wouldn't tell you to eat more veg? Diets high in protein may help us feel fuller for longer and may play a role in weight management, but there's nothing to say that the protein can't come from plants!