Higher Plant Protein Intake Reduces Risk of Overall Mortality

Did you know red meat is classified as a Group 2A carcinogen? The International Agency for Research on Cancer as part of the World Health Organization says red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Many studies have looked at the negative health outcomes associated with red meat. But what about plant based proteins?


Huang et al (JAMA, 7/2020) published “Association Between Plant and Animal Protein Intake and Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality.” The authors analyzed data from 416,000 men and women from 1995 to 2011 and looked at the hazard ratios and absolute risk differences for overall mortality and cause specific mortality.



Here’s what they found:


“In this analysis of a large prospective cohort of men and women in the US with 16 years of observation, we found higher plant protein intake was associated with reduced risk of overall mortality, with men and women experiencing (respectively) 12% and 14% lower mortality per 10 g/1000 kcal intake increment.”


“Replacement of 3% energy from various animal protein sources with plant protein was associated with 10% decreased overall mortality in both sexes. Of note, substitution analyses suggested that replacement of egg protein and red meat protein with plant protein resulted in the most prominent protective associations for overall mortality, representing 24% and 21% lower risk for men and women, respectively, for egg protein replacement, and 13% and 15% lower risk for men and women for red meat protein replacement.”



From their discussion:


“Dietary plant protein has been associated with reduced CVD risk factors, including lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, improved lipid and lipoprotein profiles, and decreased circulating concentrations of insulin like growth factor-1.”


“Meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials has shown that substitution of red meat with protein from high-quality plant sources, including legumes, soy, nuts, and other foods, was associated with benefits on lipid profiles, including favorable reductions in blood total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol.”


“Replacement of 1 standard serving of red meat with nuts and seeds daily reduced coronary heart disease risk by 30% in the Nurses’ Health Study, and greater animal protein intake was associated with 25% higher risk of ischemic heart disease among healthy men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.”


“Higher red and processed meat consumption have been consistently associated with increased premature death, possibly owing to systemic oxidative stress, inflammation, heme iron, and endogenous formation of N-nitrosocompounds.”


“An analysis of 6 prospective US cohorts, showed that higher egg consumption was associated with increased risk of incident CVD and all-cause mortality in a dose response manner.”



Jeffrey Peng MD’s take:


We’ve known for many years the detrimental effects of red and processed meats. This is slowly being extended now to other types of animal protein. Eggs for example have been shown to have increased risk for cardiovascular disease (ie. heart attacks and strokes) as well as increased risk for death. The more eggs you eat, the higher the risk.


Replacing animal protein with plant based protein can decrease risk for mortality. High quality plant proteins include legumes, soy, and nuts. While it may be impossible for some people to transition to a 100% vegetarian diet, even avoiding animal meat one or two days of the week (Meatless Mondays!) will do wonders for your health.


Over the past year, I've significantly cut back on my consumption of red meat and processed meat. I now get the majority of my protein from fish, chicken, soy, and beans. It's interesting that eggs seem to carry a higher risk for mortality than red meat. I wonder if eating mainly egg whites will reduce this risk since the majority of the cholesterol from eggs is in the yolk.


Also, for those interested in how a plant based diet can affect athletic performance, check out the Netflix documentary, Game Changers. Many high profile athletes including Arnold Schwarzenegger have switched to a plant based diet. And for those who worry about how they are going to build muscle, think about this... Gorillas are made of muscle and they eat a plant based diet.

© 2020 by Jeffrey Peng MD