In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers looked at data on 416,104 men and women taken from a U.S. National Institutes of Health–AARP study on diet and health from between 1995 to 2011. They answered questions about their demographic, lifestyle and diet at the start of the study, and were followed-up after 16 years. The results showed a significant decrease in all-cause death and risk of cardiovascular disease when diets included plant-based proteins.
On average, participants got 15% of their daily energy intake from protein: 40% from plants, and 60% from animal proteins, including 19% for dairy. The association of a lower risk of dying overall and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease was most prominent when plant proteins from foods such as bread, cereal and pasta were eaten in favour of that from meat and eggs. Replacing 3% of one’s energy intake from animal to plant protein overall was tied to a 10% lower risk of dying from the baseline, and 11% lower chance of dying of a cardiovascular problem in men and 12% in women.
Lifestyle choices that impact participants’ health were also accounted for (although, were self reported), including smoking, diabetes, fruit consumption, vitamin supplement use, and overall health. The caloric intake (15% attributed to protein) mirrored that of the general U.S population, but most participants were non-Hispanic white, limiting how the results may translate to other ethnic groups.
Past studies have shown that diets high in protein can aid weight and fat loss, perhaps because these foods help people to feel fuller for longer and use up more energy, the authors said. Substitution of some carbohydrates for proteins has also been linked to better cardiovascular measures such as blood pressure, as well as fat and sugar levels in the blood.
Connie Diekman, former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a food and nutrition consultant who did not work on the paper, told WebMD that meat protein often has higher levels of saturated fat, salt, and cholesterol which aren’t generally good for our health. “For example, one ounce of red meat mixed with whole wheat pasta and veggies would provide much less saturated fat than a 9-ounce steak,” Diekman said.
Victoria Taylor, Nutrition Lead at the U.K.-based charity the British Heart Foundation shared, “There are a number of theories [for these results]—it could be that eating less red and processed meat that is the benefit, or it could be that there are beneficial nutrients in the plant based protein sources that are having a positive effect. Or a combination of the two.”
Asked what readers should take from the study, Taylor said: “Including more plant-based proteins in your diet is a healthy choice [a well-balanced diet is] a healthy choice for your heart and circulatory health.”
The study is the latest to suggest that avoid meat may benefit our health. In one study published earlier this year in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found eating meat was associated with heart disease. This further makes the case I’m for eating a whole-food, plant based diet, which has been shown to provide the best overall balance of nutrients, protein, fats, and carbs.
It is important to speak to your provider about what type of diet will best benefit your health, as some restrictions, or overly consuming some foods, can lead to health concerns. You can read here about some of the more well-known, but not necessarily healthful, diets.
Types of plant proteins can people include in their diet
Plant-based protein comes in many forms, including beans, pulses, and whole grains. Incorporating these foods into your diet may not only benefit your overall health as shown in the previously discussed study, but they also provide a wide array of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals. Add to that, sources of plant-based protein can also help regulate blood sugar, have anti-inflammatory effects, and help prevent health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. How’s that for food for thought?
Lentils: (1 cup canned or cooked): 18g protein, 230 calories, 40g carb, 16g fiber
Edamame: (1 cup canned or cooked): 17g protein, 190 calories, 16g carb, 8g fiber
Lima beans: (1 cup canned or cooked); 12g protein, 190 calories, 35g carb, 9g fiber
Black beans: (1 cup canned or cooked); 12g protein, 200 calories, 34g carb, 10g fiber
Peanut butter (or other nut butters): (2 Tbsp); 8g protein, 190 calories, 6g carb, 2g fiber
Quinoa: (1 cup cooked): 8g protein, 220 calories, 39g carb, 5g fiber
Next week, we’ll share recipes that include plant-based proteins to help get you started on incorporating these ingredients into your diet.