Eating More Animal Proteins Can Increase Death Risk

Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Published Online: Monday, August 1st, 2016
Consuming a higher percentage of protein from plants can reduce all-cause mortality risk, a recent investigation found.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School examined health data from more than 131,000 individuals included in either the Nurses’ Health Study or the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Both datasets had repeated measures of diet through food questionnaires and up to 32 years of follow up.

Of the participants, 64.7% were women and the average age was 49 years. Median protein intake, measured as a percentage of calories, was 14% for animal protein and 4% for plant protein.
 
The results recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that those who consume more protein from plant sources have a lower risk of death from all causes than those who eat more animal proteins.
 
Specifically, every 10% increment of animal protein from total calories consumed was associated with a 2% greater risk of all-cause mortality and 8% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, in particular. Meanwhile, eating more plant protein was associated with a 10% reduction in all-cause death for every 3% increment of total calories and a 12% lower risk of cardiovascular death.
 
These observations were more pronounced among adults who also had at least one unhealthy behavior, such as smoking, heavy alcohol intake, physical inactivity, and being obese/overweight.
 
Notably, the researchers found that individuals with similar intake with and without a healthy lifestyle demonstrated distinct profiles of protein sources. Those with unhealthy lifestyles consumed more processed and unprocessed red meats, while their healthier counterparts consumed more fish and chicken as animal protein sources.
 
This, they wrote, may suggest that different protein sources contributed to the observed variation in the protein-mortality associations when they controlled for lifestyle factors.
 
“Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer substantial health benefit. Therefore, public health recommendations should focus on improvement of protein sources,” the authors concluded.
 
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can communicate these findings when counseling patients in their clinics for any reason. Discussing dietary recommendations is always appropriate and can help alleviate almost any other health ailment.
 
Examples of plant protein include:
 
·      Lentils
·      Hemp seeds
·      Chia seeds
·      Quinoa
·      Spirulina
·      Nutritional yeast
·      Nuts
·      Beans
 
 


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