A recent study suggests that red meat, be it processed or unprocessed, boosts the risk of early death when it is not consumed in moderation. Fortunately, there is an antidote: a high plant protein intake should offset the risks.
Corresponding author of the research Dr. Mingyang Song from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)’s Division of Gastroenterology noted that past research was able to assess only the risks associated with overall protein intake.
The latest study underscores the importance of the sources of proteins we insert in our diets, Song said. Researchers believe that the recent findings could help authorities fine-tune dietary guidelines about the recommended protein intake since the study showed that source and amount of proteins are equally important.
The recent findings are also important because they mark a shift from previous recommendations to swap proteins with carbohydrates to keep weight in check and prevent high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Research papers that focused on the sources of protein are relatively few. The latest analysis was based on data on nurses from a national database compiled during the Nurses’ Health Study. About 170,000 were involved in the study since the 1980s.
Nurses were asked to submit questionnaires on their dietary habits every two years, and detailed data on what they eat and how often every four years. Over the course of three decades, 36,000 study participants died (9,000 from heart conditions or stroke, 13,000 were killed by cancer, and 14,000 by conditions other than cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
After researchers have adjusted the study results for other risk factors that may influence the outcomes, they found that high intake of animal protein such as dairy products, meat, or eggs is linked with a higher risk of death.
The study also revealed that higher consumption of plant proteins such as those from beans, legumes, nuts, whole grain breads and cereals were linked to a lower risk of early death from all causes.
A more detailed analysis showed the animal protein-related mortality risk was only consistent in participants with devious lifestyles such as those with a history of substance abuse, smoking, and physical inactivity. In those who led healthy lifestyles the risk vanished.
The research team also found that the mortality risk was higher in people consuming more red meat such as pork and beef than white meat from fish and poultry.
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