When most people think protein, they think meat. There’s a reason, after all, why we call muscular people “beefy.”
But thanks to a new study out of the U.S., we’re now learning the dangers of relying on animal products to keep our biceps flexing. Researchers from Harvard University have discovered that plant-based proteins are way, way better for us than protein obtained through meat. In fact, certain meat-based proteins were found to be so harmful for the body that even if you indulge in other unhealthy habits, like smoking or heavy drinking, switching to foods like lentils or quinoa will still help extend your lifespan.
In other words, score one for the vegetarians.
The researchers followed 130,000 nurses and other health professionals aged 40 to 75 years old for almost three decades while observing their eating habits. About half of the participants were getting at least 14 per cent of their calories from animal protein sources like red meat, eggs or dairy and about four per cent of their calories from plant proteins. By the end of the study, 36,000 participants had died.
Based on those observations, and after accounting for other lifestyle factors, researchers concluded that each three per cent increase in calories obtained through plant-based proteins led to a 10 per cent lower risk of death. At the same time, every 10 per cent increase in calories consumed through meat-based proteins led to a two per cent increased risk of death from any cause. The worst offenders all seem to be the tastiest too: bacon, salami and other processed meats like hot dogs.
There is some good news though; not all meat-based proteins were found to be harmful. Particularly, in diets where meat products largely consist of chicken or fish, the link to higher mortality rates was erased. Cod, specifically, was found to “improve the lipid profile, glycemic control and insulin sensitivity.” So not all hope is lost.
It’s also important to note that this was an observational study. Which means researchers didn’t actually find a concrete, physical link between meat-based proteins and higher mortality. Their findings were based on the observation of the 130,000 people they followed, coupled with their diet and lifestyle choices.
Nonetheless, this is certainly not the first study we’ve reported on that’s found plants are essentially better for our health than meats.