Study: Plant-based protein intake linked to increased healthspan

A study led by researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) shows that women who eat more protein, especially plant-based protein, are less likely to develop chronic disease and overall have lower rates of chronic disease as they age. It’s also healthier. The study was published Jan. 17 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

By analyzing self-reported data from more than 48,762 women, the researchers found that women who consumed more protein from sources such as fruits, vegetables, breads, beans, legumes and pasta in their diets had less protein than those who ate less. The odds of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are significantly reduced, as are the odds of cognitive and mental health decline.

Protein intake in midlife is associated with improved health in older age. We also found that the source of protein matters. Getting most of your protein from plant sources in midlife, plus a small amount of animal protein, appears to be beneficial to good health and survival in later life. “

—Andres Ardisson Korat, HNRCA scientist and lead author of the study

The findings stem from Harvard’s groundbreaking Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked female health care professionals from 1984 to 2016. The women were between 38 and 59 years old in 1984 and were considered to be physically and mentally healthy at the start of the study.

Ardisson Korat and other researchers, including Professor Qi Sun of Harvard University, studied thousands of surveys collected every four years from 1984 to 2016 about how often people eat certain foods to find out how dietary protein and its Effects on healthy aging. They calculated protein intake by multiplying the number of times each food was eaten by its protein content, and then added the protein content of all foods using the Harvard University Food Composition Database.

The researchers then compared the diets of women who did not suffer from 11 chronic diseases or who had lost significant amounts of physical function or mental health with the diets of women who had 11 chronic diseases. Women ate more plant-based protein (defined in 1984 as protein obtained from breads, vegetables, fruits, pizza, cereal, baked goods, mashed potatoes, nuts, beans, peanut butter, and pasta) 46 more times than other women % spend their later years healthier. However, those who consumed higher amounts of animal protein (such as beef, chicken, milk, fish/seafood and cheese) were 6% less likely to stay healthy as they aged.

Animal protein was modestly linked to fewer physical restrictions in old age, but plant protein had a stronger, more consistent association across all observed models and was more strongly associated with healthy mental health later in life. Specifically for heart disease, higher plant protein intakes are associated with lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity, while higher animal protein intakes are associated with lower high levels, and increases levels of insulin-like growth factor—which has been detected in a variety of cancers.

The team acknowledges that the benefits of plant protein may come from the ingredients in plant foods rather than the protein; plants contain higher proportions of dietary fiber, micronutrients and beneficial compounds called polyphenols, which are found in foods compared to animal foods. in plant foods. Replacing meat with plants isn’t just about protein.

Study summary: “Dietary protein intake during midlife, especially plant protein, plays an important role in promoting healthy aging and maintaining active health in old age.”