Lower the risk of death with plant protein

According to a new study, it looks like it all takes is just a very small increase of obtaining good sources of protein from plant-based foods to reduce the risk of death from all causes.

This new research published in the journal of JAMA Internal Medicine came to the conclusion that substituting plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, was associated with lower mortality. The reduction in risk of death was achieved by replacing 3 percent of dietary sources of protein from animals with proteins from grains, vegetables and other plant-based foods.

This finding supports the 2015 report from the World Health Organization recommendation of reducing intake of highly processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, corned beef and other types of processed red meat as it significantly increases the risk for developing cancer.

This new prospective cohort study of US health professionals reviewed medical data of 131,342 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study (1980 to end of follow-up on June 1, 2012) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986 to end of follow-up on January 31, 2012).  Food frequency questionnaires assessing animal and plant protein intake were used to determine the results.

Studies have been conducted looking at levels of protein compared to carbohydrates or protein intake on its own, but making comparisons between animal and plant protein sources have not been reviewed as closely as this one.

Researchers from this study found that the median intake for animal protein for the participants was 14 percent of energy while plant protein energy was only 4 percent. For each 10 percent increment of animal protein in total calories, the risk of death increased by 2 percent and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease increased by 8 percent.  This was even after adjusting for lifestyle and dietary risk factors.

But when plant sources of protein were replaced animal protein by 3 percent, the risk of death decreased by 10 percent with cardiovascular disease risk of death decreased by 12 percent.

There was even better news for participants exhibiting unhealthy lifestyle factors of smoking, drinking at least 14 grams of alcohol each day, obesity, or inactivity as they had even greater health benefits from switching from animal proteins to more plant protein, surprising even the researchers.

Dr. Mingyang Song, researcher at Harvard Medical School, said “It’s possible that the benefit of plant proteins is more significant among the unhealthy group because these people may have underlying inflammation or other disorders, which could increase the potential benefit of substituting plant proteins.”

The overconsumption of red meat has been found to be particularly risky to the health of men and boys according to an update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines released earlier this year. 

To increase plant sources of protein, include more of the following foods in your daily food choices listed below:

·         All nuts including walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and peanuts

·         Grain sources high in protein including quinoa, buckwheat and farro

·         All forms of soy protein such as edamame and soymilk

·         All forms of beans – kidney, pinto, garbanzo, red, navy, and black

·         Seeds high in protein – chia, hempseed, flaxseed, sunflower, and pumpkin

·         Nut butters – peanut butter, almond butter, walnut butter, hazelnut butter, cashew butter, sunflower seed butter, and tahini (sesame seed) butter

·         Vegetable sources of protein – peas, spinach, kale, broccoli, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, artichokes, asparagus, and corn