How to live longer: Swap animal protein for plant protein to boost longevity

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Life is fraught with uncertainty but eating well provides a roadmap to longevity. That’s because a healthy diet provides a buffer against chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Research suggests even simple dietary swaps can reduce your risk of life-threatening complications.

Research published in the journal JAMA Network examined the association that exists between different dietary protein choices, particularly from various food sources, and long-term overall mortality or cause-specific mortality in the US population.

The research pitted animal protein against plant protein to see if swapping one for the other brought longevity benefits.

The study analysed data from 416,104 men and women in the US National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study from 1995 to 2011.

The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study was developed at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health to improve understanding of the relationship between diet and health.

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A food frequency questionnaire was at the beginning of the study to ascertain dietary information, including intake of plant protein and animal protein.

Over the course of the study, 77,614 deaths were analysed.

Adjusting for several important clinical and other risk factors, greater dietary plant protein intake was associated with reduced overall mortality in both sexes.

The association between plant protein intake and overall mortality was similar across the subgroups of smoking status, diabetes, fruit consumption, vitamin supplement use, and self-reported health status.

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What’s more, replacement of three percent energy from animal protein with plant protein was associated with reduced overall mortality (risk decreased 10 percent in both men and women).

The dietary swap also reduced cardiovascular disease mortality risk (11 percent lower risk in men and 12 percent lower risk in women).

What counts as plant protein?

Good sources of plant protein include legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, whole grains.

“If most of your protein comes from plants, make sure that you mix up your sources so no ‘essential’ components of protein are missing,” advises Harvard Health.

The health body adds: “The good news is that the plant kingdom offers plenty of options to mix and match.”

In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, you should engage in regular physical activity.

“Any activity is better than none, and more is better still,” notes the NHS.

According to the health body, you should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.

Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer.

“One way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing,” explains the NHS.

Examples of moderate intensity activities:

  • Brisk walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Doubles tennis.

“Make sure the type and intensity of your activity is appropriate for your level of fitness,” adds the NHS.

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