Vegetarians not only live better, but also longer, according to new American research. But the project leader says he doesn’t want everyone to go meat-free.
Scientists led by Mingyang Song at Massachusetts General Hospital analysed data from two major studies with more than 150,000 participants.
Their aim: to prove whether people who got their protein from red and processed meats had a significantly higher death rate than those who got their protein from plants.
The 32-year Nurses’ Health Study, followed by the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study at Harvard University, reviewed the participants’ diet repeatedly.
“Specifically, how often they consumed portions of particular types of food during the preceding year – every four years,” the researchers said.
The team found a 10% increase in proteins from animals resulted in a 2% increase in mortality overall, and an 8% rise in the risk of death from heart disease.
But a 3% increase in protein from plants led to a 10% decrease in mortality and a 12% drop in the risk of death from cardiovascular causes.
The findings are clear, said Song. Plant-based proteins from beans, nuts, quinoa and seeds are a healthier choice than steaks or beef products such as hot dogs.
Song added, “I wouldn’t suggest that everyone switch to vegan.” Certain meats – for example, chicken and fish – carry a much lower mortality risk overall and from heart disease.
But the traditional American diet, rife with animal products such as burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, steaks, eggs and dairy, “is associated with a variety of bad outcomes,” he said.
The research started in the 1980s and totalled what the scientists call 3.5 million person-years. In that time, there were 36,000 deaths among the participants – 13,000 from cancer, 9000 from cardiovascular disease and 14,000 from other causes.
“After adjustment for lifestyle and other dietary risk factors, a high consumption of protein from animal sources … was weakly associated with an increased risk of death.
“High consumption of protein from plant sources – breads, cereals, pasta, beans, nuts and legumes – was associated with a lower mortality rate.”
It’s not just that meat is bad and plants are good. Processed meats are filled with potentially unhealthy additives.
Song began the study because others had suggested health benefits from a plant-based diet but none looked at the source of protein.
“We were able to link information over the years,” he said. The data from the two studies “provided a unique opportunity to look at long-term health outcomes.”