Want to live longer? Pick beans, nuts and seeds over hot dogs and burgers

August 2, 2016 Providence Health Team

If you get more of your protein from plants, you’re likely to live longer, a new study has found.

Researchers examined more than 25 years of health records for more than 131,000 people and determined the people who ate more plant-based proteins – bread, cereals, pasta, nuts, beans and vegetables/legumes – lived longer than those who ate more animal-based proteins. The difference is greatest between people who ate more plant proteins and those who ate processed, red-meat-based proteins, such as bacon, sausages and processed meats.

“If you have a choice between animal and plant protein, we would say plant protein is preferred and a better source,” lead researcher Mingyang Song, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital, told Time magazine. “But if people have to choose between different animal protein sources, then fish and chicken are probably better sources compared to processed red meat.”

The study by the team of Boston-based researchers was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers take deep look at sources, health effects of proteins

Earlier studies have examined the health effects of substituting proteins for carbohydrates, the merits of plant-based fats vs. animal fats and other aspects of plant- and animal-based diets. But this study took an in-depth look at the source of proteins for a large population.

Researchers from Massachusetts General studied data for people who participated in the national Nurses’ Health Study from 1980 to 2012 and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1986 to 2012. In the end, they said, eating more animal protein was weakly associated with higher mortality rates, and eating more plant protein was associated with lower mortality rates.

They said the results were most pronounced among people with at least one lifestyle risk, such as smoking, heavy drinking, obesity and physical inactivity. The factors may be interrelated with diet, the researchers wrote.

“Those with unhealthy lifestyles consumed more processed and unprocessed red meat, whereas the healthy-lifestyle group consumed more fish and chicken as animal protein sources, suggesting that different protein sources, at least in part, contributed to the observed variation in the protein-mortality associations,” according to the study.

Sources of plant-based proteins

If you’d like to add plant-based proteins to your diet, experts say these are good choices:

  • Quinoa
  • Soy, as in tofu
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Peanut butter
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Green peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Edamame
  • Leafy greens, such as spinach

Take stock of your diet

The Boston study is available at the JAMA Internal Medicine website.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has built SuperTracker, a deep resource for checking nutritional information, monitoring your food intake, tracking your physical activity and even creating group challenges.

Providence has many resources for those looking to improve or maintain their diets. Our nutrition services include trackers, meal planning guides and informational videos, as well as links to clinics and providers.

You can discuss your diet with your nutritionist or other health care provider. If you don’t have a provider, you can find a Providence provider here.

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