Plant vs Animal Protein Cuts Death Risk

Eating more protein from vegetarian foods and less from animal foods is associated with a massive reduction in deaths from all causes including cancer and heart disease, says a major new study following 131,000 people over up to 32 years.

Replacing a mere 3% of calories from processed meat with vegetarian sources of protein cut risk of a heart attack by 39 per cent. For unprocessed red meat the reduction was 18%. But if a person ate half their 18% of protein, the average consumed in Britain, from red meat and processed meats, and substituted half of this to vegetarian protein that equates to over an 80 per cent reduction in cancer and heart disease. These results were strongest in people who had at least one other unhealthy behavior such as smoking, drinking and being overweight or sedentary.

The authors of the study, from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, said that “After adjusting for major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, every 10 per cent increment of animal protein from total calories was associated with an 8 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease death. In contrast, eating more plant protein was associated with a 10 per cent lower risk of death from all causes for every 3 per cent increment of total calories and a 12 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular death.”

I have long recommended the virtual avoidance of processed meat and restricting meat to a maximum of three servings a week, ideally only one of red meat, which more emphasis on vegetarian protein, plus three servings of fish.

In this study having less eggs and more vegetable protein was also consistent with reduced mortality from all causes, including cancer and heart disease. Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds have many health benefits and consistently come up trumps (a word we might have to stop using) in relation to health. They contain phytoestrogens and sterols, for example, which reduce breast and prostate cancer risk as well as lowering cholesterol.

The greatest risk, however, was in people with other unhealthy behaviours and a high intake of red and processed meat and a low intake of vegetable protein. Superhealthy lean meat eaters may not fare so badly. However, the benefit from plant-based protein foods remains a clear trend of this substantial study. If you’d like to understand more about what constitutes a ‘perfect’ diet read the Optimum Nutrition Bible and Optimum Nutrition Cookbook.