A major new study has found that consuming more plant-based proteins in midlife may help promote healthier aging in women. Researchers at Harvard University analyzed diet and health data from over 160,000 women aged 35-65 and found that those who ate more plant proteins had lower risks of premature death and chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease as they aged.
Higher Intake Of Plant Proteins Associated With Up To 15% Lower Mortality Rate
The study, published this week in JAMA Network Open, found that women with the highest intake of plant protein had up to a 15% lower all-cause mortality rate compared to those with the lowest intake. Replacing just 3% of daily calories from carbohydrates or animal proteins with plant proteins was associated with this longevity boost.
“Substituting plant for animal protein, especially from processed red meats, may improve longevity by decreasing the risk of mortality from type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer,” said lead study author Dr. Yanping Li.
The researchers analyzed data from nurses enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, adjusting for lifestyle and dietary factors like smoking, exercise, multivitamin use, fats, and fiber. This allowed them to isolate the impact of plant protein specifically.
Key Takeaways From The Research:
- Women who got over 14% of calories from plant protein had the lowest risks of premature death
- Replacing processed red meat protein with nuts, legumes, whole grains lowered mortality more
- Heart disease death rates were 10-12% lower among those eating more plant protein
- Diabetes rates were up to 24% lower compared to the lowest plant protein group
- Cancer death rates were 8-13% lower for breast and colorectal cancers
“These findings suggest plant protein sources like nuts, legumes and whole grains should be a regular part of a healthy diet,” said Dr. Frank Hu, senior study author.
Plant Proteins May Protect Through Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Further analyzing the data, the researchers found evidence that the anti-inflammatory effects of plant proteins may drive their protective health impacts.
“Plant proteins are higher in anti-inflammatory nutrients like antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber, which previous studies link to lower risks of chronic diseases that can impact longevity,” explained Dr. Li.
Higher fiber intakes from whole grain and legume proteins especially appeared beneficial, with up to 30% lower diabetes deaths seen in those eating the most plant protein and fiber.
Nuts and legumes are antioxidant-rich, while fiber dampens spikes in blood sugar and inflammation. This may explain why swapping these for even unprocessed red meat offered longevity benefits.
Recommended Plant Protein Intake Differs By Sex And Health Status
While this study focused on women, Dr. Hu highlighted that the ideal plant protein intake for longevity likely differs between the sexes.
Men generally require higher protein intakes than women, and health issues like malnutrition or muscle wasting conditions may also alter needs. Those without special protein needs should aim for:
Recommended Daily Plant Protein Intakes
|Intake (% Daily Calories)
Higher ranges are advised for older adults 65+ to help maintain muscle mass and function. Athletes and some chronic disease patients may also need elevated intakes.
More Research Needed On Plant Proteins And Healthy Aging
The researchers cautioned that further studies confirming the longevity impacts of plant protein across broader age and ethnic groups will be informative. Trials directly increasing plant protein while reducing animal proteins will provide more definitive evidence as well.
Still, this study significantly strengthens the existing evidence linking plant-rich diets with longevity and lower disease risks into older age for women. Coupled with prior evidence on plant proteins and obesity, heart health, and inflammation, the researchers say the case for increasing plant over animal proteins is compelling.
“Focusing on whole, minimally processed plant foods like beans, lentils, nuts and whole grains as protein sources throughout midlife may be a wise investment for lifelong health,” said Dr. Hu.
What This Means For You
For women looking to promote healthy aging, increasing plant proteins like whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils to 14-22% of total calorie intake is advised based on this data.
Replacing even small amounts of processed red meats, chicken, fish or dairy proteins with these options daily appears beneficial. Consuming a variety of antioxidant and fiber-rich plant proteins is ideal to reduce heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammation and longevity risks over time.
Discuss optimal plant protein intakes for your age and health status with your doctor and registered dietitian. Gradual shifts of 3-5% calories from refined grains or red meat to whole grains, nuts, seeds or legumes at meals is recommended for adaptation. With tasty options like peanut stir fries, bean burritos, or quinoa power bowls, boosting plant proteins can be both healthy and delicious!
This study gives women more motivation to stick to their New Year’s resolutions around plant-based eating for protective health effects now and in older age. It also gives doctors and policymakers cause to further recommend and support access to plant proteins in community settings to promote longevity.
Over 160,000 women tracked for 20+ years shows plant protein in midlife matters for healthier aging. As ongoing research continues affirming their health benefits, plant proteins deserve a regular place on our plates and prominent position in future dietary guidelines.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.