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Plant protein lowers risk of premature death by up to 47 percent

Older women who eat more plant protein lower their risk of premature death from all causes, according to a study from the American Heart Association. The researchers found that substituting nuts for red meat, eggs, or dairy products was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes by up to 47 percent, depending on the type of protein that is replaced.

In particular, plant-based proteins substantially lowered the odds of developing fatal cardiovascular disease and dementia.

“Our findings support the need to consider dietary protein sources in future dietary guidelines,” said study lead author Dr. Wei Bao. “Current dietary guidelines mainly focus on the total amount of protein, and our findings show that there may be different health influences associated with different types of protein foods.”

Previous studies have indicated that there is a link between diets high in red meat and cardiovascular disease, but the data is sparse and inconclusive about specific types of proteins, explained the researchers.

The current investigation was focused on data from more than 100,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 who participated in the national Women’s Health Initiative study, which ran from 1993 to 1998. The women were then followed up with over the next two decades. 

The participants had initially completed questionnaires about their diets, including how often they ate eggs, dairy, poultry, red meat, and fish. They also documented the amount of plant proteins they consumed, such as tofu, nuts, beans, and peas. 

The researchers analyzed the amount and type of protein that the women consumed, and then divided them into groups based on who ate the most or least of each protein. 

The study revealed that women with the highest amount of plant protein intake had a nine percent lower risk of death from all causes, a 12 percent lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease, and a 21 percent lower risk of dementia-related death.

In addition, high consumption of processed red meat was associated with a 20 percent greater risk of dying from dementia.

Women who ate more eggs had a 24 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and those who consumed the most dairy products had an 11 percent higher risk. The participants who reported consuming high levels of eggs also had a 10 percent higher risk of death due to cancer, but a 14 percent lower risk of death from dementia. In addition, higher poultry consumption was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of dementia.

“It is unclear in our study why eggs were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and cancer death,” said Dr. Bao. “It might be related to the way people cook and eat eggs. Eggs can be boiled, scrambled, poached, baked, basted, fried, shirred, coddled or pickled or in combinations with other foods.”

“In the United States, people usually eat eggs in the form of fried eggs and often with other foods such as bacon. Although we have carefully accounted for many potential confounding factors in the analysis, it is still difficult to completely tease out whether eggs, other foods usually consumed with eggs, or even non-dietary factors related to egg consumption, may lead to the increased risk of cardiovascular and cancer death.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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