Most of us know by now we could use more plant-based foods in our diets, since they boast fiber, antioxidants and other vital nutrients that help stave off chronic disease. However, only one in 10 Americans get enough, putting us at risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease. A new study out of Japan found if we would all up our consumption of plant-based protein, like lentils, beans, soy, nuts and seeds, we would be able to ward off some of the leading causes of death in our country—and delay death altogether.
Researchers from Japan's National Cancer Center and National Center for Global Health & Medicine studied the eating habits of more than 70,000 Japanese adults for 18 years. Their average age was 55 and none of them had a history of cancer or heart disease at the start of the study. These participants filled out food frequency questionnaires during this period, which allowed researchers to separate them into five groups based on the amount of plant protein they consumed.
Related: The 10 Best Vegan Protein Sources
Those who consumed the most plant protein had a 27 percent lower rate of heart-related death, 28 percent lower rate of heart disease death, 28 percent lower rate of stroke death and, ultimately, a 13 percent lower rate of all-cause mortality than the group who consumed the lowest amount of plant protein.
It's important to mention the authors of this study didn't find a correlation between mortality rate and the amount of animal protein intake when isolated. They believe this is likely due to the fact that the Japanese consume most of their animal protein from fish instead of red and processed meats. Therefore, they also include fish protein as a longevity-boosting source alongside plant protein.
"Our study suggests that plant protein may provide beneficiary health effects and that replacement of red and processed meat with plant or fish protein may increase longevity," the authors said.
The Bottom Line
It's unclear how much plant and animal protein the highest and lowest groups consumed on average, but we appreciate that this study advises eating a balanced (and mostly plant-based) diet that isn't completely devoid of meat.
Additionally, the U.S. is eating more fish than ever before, but most of us could still use even more in our diet. Both the American Heart Association and our nation's dietary guidelines advise eating a 4-ounce serving of fish twice a week, but we're eating closer to one.
Instead of another night of Chicken Tetrazzini or burgers this week, try mixing things up with one of our Healthy Quick & Easy Fish & Seafood Recipes (Peppery Barbecue Glazed Shrimp with Vegetables & Orzo, anyone?) or a High-Protein Vegan Recipe, like our Thai Spaghetti Squash with Peanut Sauce. Yum!
Related: Our Top 15 Heart-Healthy Foods