Large-scale study finds that eating lean proteins can help you live longer
For the study, researchers at Harvard University spanned three decades and more than 130,000 people. The study was observational so it didn’t probe the biological reasons behind the changes in death risk according to a person’s diet, nor did it demonstrate cause and effect.
The researchers found that diets in red meat and other high-fat
proteins like eggs and cheese weren’t at higher risk of dying among people who were otherwise healthy. However, they noted that people with one other risk factor – like being inactive, overweight
, smoking or drinking alcohol regularly – were likely to see their death risk rise is they ate lots of red meat.
“Our findings suggest that people should consider eating more plant proteins than animal proteins, and when they do choose among sources of animal protein, fish and chicken are probably better choices,” said study co-author Mingyang Song, a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.
“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,” Song added.
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Researchers suggest getting your protein from breads, cereals and pasta instead of beef and pork
When the researchers analysed what kinds of protein were associated with higher mortality risk, they found them to be mainly processed and unprocessed red meats, including beef and pork.
They linked the lowest mortality rate to people who got their protein mostly from breads, cereals, pasta, beans, nuts and legumes. Song reported that the researchers were very surprised to see that there was no apparent higher risk of dying among otherwise healthy red meat eaters. So eating a steak on the odd occasion isn’t too unhealthy after all, provided you lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle.
“While we expected we might find the associations to be weaker in the healthy lifestyle group, we did not expect them to completely disappear," Song reported. “But when we looked deeper into the data, we found that – at similar levels of animal protein intake – those in the unhealthy lifestyle group consumed more red meats, eggs and high-fat
dairy, while the healthy lifestyle group consumed more fish and poultry.”
While these findings suggest that you should opt for plant-based protein over red meat, researchers noted that it’s not completely clear whether or not plant-based sources of proteins are protective or animal proteins are detrimental to your health, or whether these protein levels are simply markers for something else.