Consuming protein from meat sources, as opposed to vegetarian protein sources – like soy, beans or nuts – is associated with an 8% higher risk of death from heart disease, a study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital has found.
These figures could be higher among adults who have what the study defined as at least one other unhealthy habit, like smoking, drinking and being overweight or inactive.
Eating more protein derived from plant sources leads to a 10% lower risk of death from all causes and a 12% lower risk of death from heart disease, researchers found.
Bad result for smokers
The study analysed the protein intake of 131,342 participants for more than 30 years. Of these, 64.7% (85,013) were female, with the average age of the participant 49.
Researchers found that substituting 3% of protein derived from meat and replacing it with plant-based protein could keep people fitter and healthier for longer. The chances of an early death were particularly pronounced amongst participants who smoked, drank heavily or were defined as obese.
“Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer substantial health benefit,” the study’s author Mingyang Song said in the study. “Therefore, public health recommendations should focus on improvement of protein sources.”
In January this year, the US Departments for Health and Agriculture respectively co-published new dietary guidelines recommending that Americans eat a variety of protein sources, including lean red meat and poultry.