Research suggests that replacing a diet of animal protein with that of plant protein could increase life expectancy.
A large study found that every 3 per cent increase in calories from plant protein reduced the risk of death from all causes by 10 per cent.
It was also associated with a 12 per cent lower risk of death from heart disease.
In contrast, raising the animal protein share of calories by 10 per cent led to a 2 per cent higher risk of all-causes of death and an 8 per cent greater chance of dying from a heart problem.
Animal protein foods include all types of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products such as milk and cheese. Plant sources of protein include cereals, beans, nuts, legumes, soya and bread. The greater risk of dying linked to eating animal protein was more pronounced among people who were obese, had a history of smoking, drank heavily, and who did little exercise.
Among the healthiest participants, the association disappeared – possibly because health-conscious people tended to eat more fish and poultry rather than red and processed meat, said the researchers.
Replacing processed red meat with plant protein was linked to a 34 per cent lower risk of death from all causes for every 3 per cent of calorie intake.
Substituting plant protein for eggs led to a 19 per cent reduction in death risk.
Lead scientist Dr Mingyang Song, from Massachusetts General Hospital, US, said: “Overall, our findings support the importance of the sources of dietary protein for long-term health outcomes.
“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.
“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.”
The scientists concluded: “Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer substantial health benefits.”
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