In recent times, as more people are opting for vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, protein diversification has become an emerging focus. Plant protein, especially has gained much popularity. Now, a new study shows that women who consume higher amounts of plant protein develop fewer chronic diseases and are more likely to be healthier as they age.
The study, conducted by researchers from Tuft University, analysed data from more than 48,000 women. The researchers observed less heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and cognitive and mental health decline, in people who included more protein in their diets from foods such as fruits, vegetables, bread, beans, legumes, and pasta, the university’s press statement revealed.
The data analysis was based on the seminal Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study, which followed female healthcare professionals from 1984 to 2016. In the study, women between the ages of 38 and 59 in 1984 were included.
The findings, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that protein intake in midlife is linked to promoting good health in older adulthood. “We also found that the source of protein matters. Getting the majority of your protein from plant sources at midlife, plus a small amount of animal protein seems to be conducive to good health and good survival to older ages,” lead author Andres Ardisson Korat said in the statement.
The study showed that women who ate more plant-based protein were 46% more likely to be healthy in their later years. Compared to this, those who consumed more animal protein such as chicken, milk, seafood, and cheese were only 6% less likely to stay healthy as they aged, the statement explained.
Furthermore, women who consumed greater amounts of animal protein tended to have more chronic disease and didn’t show improvement in physical function that is usually linked to eating protein. Specifically, regarding heart disease, higher plant protein consumption was associated with lower levels of LDL cholesterol (often known as “bad” cholesterol), blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.
According to the researchers, the benefits of plant protein could be linked to the finding that compared to animal foods, plants have a higher proportion of dietary fibre, micronutrients, and beneficial compounds called polyphenols instead of just protein.