A large study found every 3% increase in calories from plant protein reduces the risk of death from all causes by 10%. It is also associated with a 12% lower risk of death from heart disease.
In contrast, raising the animal protein share of calories by 10% led to a 2% higher risk of all-cause death and an 8% greater chance of dying from a heart problem.
Animal protein foods include all types of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products such as milk and cheese.
Plant sources of protein include cereals, beans, nuts, legumes, soya and bread. The greater risk of dying linked to eating animal protein is more pronounced among people who were obese, have a history of smoking, drink heavily, and who do little exercise.
Among the healthiest participants, the association disappears possibly because health-conscious people tend to eat more fish and poultry rather than red and processed meat, said the researchers.
Replacing processed red meat with plant protein was linked to a 34% lower risk of death from all causes for every 3% of calorie intake. Substituting plant protein for eggs led to a 19% reduction in death risk.
Lead scientist Mingyang Song, from Massachusetts General Hospital, US, said: “Overall, our findings support the importance of the sources of dietary protein for long-term health outcomes. While previous studies have primarily focused on the overall amount of protein intake, which is important, from a broad dietary perspective, the particular foods that people consume to get protein are equally important.’
The findings are reported in the journal Jama Internal Medicine.
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