There has been a growing body of evidence supporting the intake of plant based proteins vs animal proteins for many reasons but data from a recent article in the peer reviewed publication, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), indicate the more plant protein consumed, the lower the risk for mortality even if they have unhealthy lifestyle habits such as heavy drinking, obesity, physical inactivity or smoking. Among the study authors was Frank Hu, MD, PhD, one of Metagenics’ distinguished research advisors and collaborators. Dr. Hu is Professor of Medicine and Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and expert in the areas of dietary and lifestyle determinants of obesity, T2DM, and cardiovascular disease.  He is also an academic leader and member of the NHLBI, Obesity Guidelines Expert Panel and the IOM Committee on Preventing the Global Epidemic of Cardiovascular Disease.

This study combined two cohorts, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, for a total of 131,342 participants, 85,013 of them were women, were followed for up to 32 years. The findings were consistent with prior research: protein from plant sources, which included beans, nuts, cereal, bread, and pasta, was associated with a lower mortality risk than those who ate protein from processed meat, red meat, eggs, poultry, and fish.  Mortality during the follow up period was most commonly associated with cardiovascular disease.

The study also showed when dietary changes were implemented, such as switching plant protein for animal protein yielded significant improvements in risk for mortality:

  • 34% when replacing processed red meat
  • 12% when replacing unprocessed red meat
  • 19% when replacing eggs

After accounting for lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity and physical inactivity, the researchers found each 3% increase in calories from plant protein was associated with a 10% lower risk of death. Another way of looking at this: each 10% increase in calories from animal protein was associated with 2% higher risk of death from any cause and an 8% increased risk of death from heart disease. This association between animal protein and mortality was even stronger for people who were obese or heavy drinkers.

The strengths of this study included: large sample size, high follow up rates, length of study and repeated dietary assessments.

Why is this significant?

A high dietary intake of animal protein is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality in people who have lifestyle risk factors; increased intake of dietary plant protein attenuates this risk.

Read the JAMA abstract

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