Researchers have linked a diet high in protein and especially high in plant proteins to a lower risk of death from any cause. The team says their findings support current dietary recommendations for people to increase their consumption of plant proteins in the general population.
Diets that are high in protein and especially proteins from plants such as whole grains, nuts and legumes (beans, lentils & peas) have been linked to lower risks of people developing heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Regular consumption of red meat and high intakes of other animal proteins have been associated with several health problems.
However, data on the link between different types of proteins and death are somewhat conflicting. The research teams based in the USA and Iran set out to measure the potential dose response relationship between the intake of total animal and plant proteins and the risk of death related to all causes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The team reviewed the results of 32 studies that have reported risk estimates for all cause, cancer and cardiovascular mortality in adults aged 19 and older. All of the studies were thoroughly assessed for any bias or problems in study design that might influence the results.
Mathematical models were used to compared the effects of the highest vs. the lowest categories of protein intakes. Analyses were done to evaluate the dose response relationship between mortality and protein intake.
During the follow-up period of up to 32 years, 113,039 deaths (22,303 from cancer and 16,429 from cardiovascular disease) occurred among 715,128 study participants. The results indicated that a high intake of total protein was linked to a lower risk of all cause mortality compared to a low intake.
The intake of plant proteins was linked to an 8% lower risk of all cause mortality and a 12% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. The consumption of animal protein was not significantly linked to a risk of cancer and cardiovascular mortality.
A dose response analysis of data from 31 studies also indicated that an additional 3% of energy derived from plant proteins daily was linked to a 5% lower risk of death from all causes.
Possible explanations for the beneficial effects of plant proteins include their link to favorable changes in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels which may help lower the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease per the research team.
The team points to some limitations such as differences in the way studies analyzed the data and the possibility that some effects could have been due to confounding or unmeasured factors. Additionally, as most of the included studies were from Western nations, the team’s findings might not be applicable to other countries.
However, strengths from the study include the large number of participants and deaths which provides detailed insights into the link between the consumption of dietary protein and risk of mortality based on the current evidence.
The team’s findings have significant health implications as the consumption of plant proteins can be increased very easily by replacing animal proteins and could additionally have a large effect on longevity.
For anyone looking to increase their consumption of plant based proteins, the American Diabetes Association recommends eating foods such as beans, chickpeas, edamame beans, quinoa and lentils. And adding certain vegetables such as peas, spinach and broccoli can also be beneficial!
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