People who eat the most plant-based protein tend to live longer than those who eat the least, according to a large Japanese study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The study, which followed 70,696 Japanese adults for an average of 18 years, also found that those who substituted plant protein for animal protein (especially red or processed meat) were less likely to die prematurely from cancer, cardiovascular disease, or for any reason.
Although higher meat intake in and of itself was not associated with a higher risk of premature death, those who ate the most plant protein did tend to eat less meat. They also consumed more soy, fruit, and vegetables.
The association between more plant protein and a longer lifespan “did not substantially change after further adjustment for history of hypertension, dyslipidemia [cholesterol and/or triglyceride problems], or type 2 diabetes,” the authors noted. “Our study suggests that plant protein may provide beneficial health effects and that replacement of red and processed meat protein with plant or fish protein may increase longevity.”
This research confirms findings from earlier studies, such as the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which also found that the risk of early death decreased as plant protein intake increased.
“Cereals, pulses [which include beans, lentils, and peas], vegetables, and fruits were the major sources of plant protein intake and carbohydrates. Because these foods are also often represented in healthy dietary patterns, replacing them [with meat and processed carbohydrates] may have adverse health effects,” the authors of the Japanese study concluded.
While going vegetarian is one way to eat more plant protein, you don’t necessarily have to shun meat completely in order to get healthier. Research has shown that simply cutting back on animal products in favor of more plant-based foods — a way of eating that’s sometimes described as flexitarian or semi-vegetarian — may help you maintain a healthy body weight, improve your blood pressure, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.