A diet rich in plant-based foods could add years to your life, based on a Japanese study linking consumption of plant proteins like beans and nuts to reduced risk of death. Findings were published in JAMA: Internal Medicine and also suggest that replacing red and processed meats with non-animal protein may reduce risk of death from heart disease and cancer.
Using data from a Japanese public health registry, this study looked at the impact of animal and plant-based proteins on mortality risk. It included nearly 70,700 healthy adults who completed detailed dietary questionnaires and were followed for an average of 18 years.
Researchers looked at how overall plant and animal-based protein intake impacts mortality risk, as well as how changes in diet affect survival rates.
Among the study participants, who had an average age of 56, there were a total of 12,381 deaths over the study period. Researchers found that consumption of animal-based proteins like dairy and meat had no clear association with mortality risk. However, participants consuming high amounts of plant protein had up to 16% lower risk of death compared to those with the lowest level of plant intake.
According to authors, sources of animal protein included fish, meat, eggs, milk and dairy products. Plant proteins included any type of protein that was not animal based, such as soy, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts.
Researchers also found that replacing 3% of daily calories from red meat with plant protein was associated with a 34–42% reduction in risk for death from all causes, heart disease and cancer. Replacing processed meat with plant-based protein had an even bigger impact, reducing risk of death by up to 50%.
What findings show, according to authors, is that increasing intake of plant-based proteins may improve health and longevity. Findings also suggest that limiting red and processed meats, which have been linked to heart disease and cancer, could reduce risk of death.
However, that doesn’t mean we need to cut out animal products completely. In this study, animal-based foods like fish, eggs, milk and dairy products had no clear impact on risk of death. Current guidelines encourage consumption of fish and low-fat dairy as part of a well-balanced diet.