People who ate more plant-based proteins had an 8% lower overall death risk and 12% lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related death.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
July 30, 2020
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Ditching meat and leaning more on plant foods as a main protein source is gaining traction and popularity, especially lately. It is no secret that eating more plant-based foods offers a variety of potential health benefits, ranging from weight loss to lower risk of cancer. It seems like every month there is more and more evidence supporting plant-based eating, and a recent study reports particularly interesting findings on how plant proteins may be related to longevity.

What the Science Says

A recent meta-analysis published in The BMJ reviewed 32 previous research studies with a grand total of over 700,000 participants to look at the relationship between plant-based eating and risk of death. Participants were followed from anywhere from three years to 32 years. All of the studies in the analysis looked at dietary intake and overall mortality rate as well as cardiovascular disease-related deaths. It is important to note that not all of the studies used the same methods of tracking dietary intake, so there were some limitations in the data the reviewers used to get their results.

Initially, they found that higher total protein intake, regardless of source, was associated with lower mortality when compared to a lower-protein diet. When they looked at sources of protein in people's diets, they found that consumption of plant proteins, specifically legumes like beans, lentils and peas, was associated with an 8% lower risk of mortality. The benefits were even greater for heart health, with an 12% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease-related death. Additionally, the researchers noted a dose-response effect: the more plant-based protein people ate, the lower their risk of early death.

Why It Matters

Plenty of research supports the overall health benefits of a plant-based diet, and particularly for cardiovascular health. And while more research needs to be done to solidify their findings about the decreased mortality risk, this review is strong and hopefully encourages people to try and work more plant proteins into their diets, specifically legumes, beans and lentils. It is also important to note that most all of the studies they reviewed were conducted in Western nations, so the findings may not be applicable to other countries.

Healthy Plant-Based Proteins to Eat More Of

There are several easy ways to add more vegetarian and vegan proteins to your plate. Try topping your salad with 1/3 cup of lentils or white beans. Snack on hummus and vegetables to keep you full through an afternoon slump. Adding plant proteins to foods you already eat can help you boost your protein intake as well. For example, try adding peanut butter to oatmeal or smoothies. You can also add peas (fresh or frozen) to pastas and stews. For more inspiration, check out our high-protein vegetarian recipes.