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Live longer – eat less meat

Want your best chance for living a long, healthy life? Have a diet that is high in plant protein, say Japanese researchers.

That’s the suggestion following their prospective study of over 70,000 adults, recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to their findings, a higher intake of plant protein was associated with lower total mortality,  specifically mortality related to cardiovascular disease. In fact, those people whose diet was proportionally in the highest bracket for plant protein were up to 41% less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.

And in case one thinks it is the protein that is the key rather than the plant component, think again. The study showed higher total and animal protein intake was not associated with overall mortality or any specific cause of mortality, and that includes high fish intake diets, or eggs and dairy diets.

But what the researchers were able to determine was that if a person swapped their animal protein for plant protein they could not only reduce their risk of dying from cardiac causes but also they reduced their risk of cancer.

And in terms which plant proteins were best, it appears the benefits were much the same whether people ate more vegetables and fruit or cereals.

“Among plant proteins, no clear association was observed when vegetable and fruit protein were substituted for cereal and soy protein, which may indicate that all three sources are beneficial,” the study authors said.

The study itself included a large cohort of healthy 45-74-year-olds from the Japan Public Health Center-based Prospective Cohort. They were enrolled over a period of five years and then followed up for an average of 18 years, with dietary information gathered by means of a validated questionnaire at baseline and at five yearly intervals after that. Over the duration of the study, almost 12,400 deaths were documented.

As with all observational studies, it is impossible to conclude that the benefit seen is solely associated with one factor, in this case a high plant protein diet.  There can be confounders.

For instance, people with a higher animal protein intake tended to consume more calories overall than those who ate mainly plant proteins.

The researchers do concede that plant protein intake may reflect a healthy eating behaviour but they make the point they did adjust for several lifestyle factors and found little difference in the overall results.

“Our study suggests that encouraging diets with higher plant-based protein intake may contribute to long-term health and longevity,” they concluded.

Reference

Budhathoki S, Sawada N, Iwasaki M, Yamaji T, Goto A, Kotemori A, et al. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Aug 26. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2806 [Epub ahead of print]