People who eat more protein from plants and less from animals may live longer even when they have unhealthy habits like heavy drinking or smoking, a large U.S. study suggests. The findings suggest that when it comes to protein, where it comes from may be just as important as how much people eat, said lead study author Dr. Mingyang Song, a researcher at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Plants are a better source than animal products,” Song said by email. “If people do have to choose among animal products, try to avoid processed red meat and choose fish or chicken instead,” Song added. Song and colleagues followed more than 130,000 nurses and other health professionals over several decades. Half of the participants were getting at least 14 percent of their calories from animal protein and at least 4 percent from plant protein. At the start of the study, participants were 49 years old on average. Most were women. By the end of the study, about 36,000 people died – about 8,850 of cardiovascular disease and roughly 13,000 of cancer. After accounting for lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity and physical inactivity, each 3 percent increase in calories from plant protein was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of death during the study period. In contrast to the benefits seen with plants, each 10 percent increase in the proportion of calories from animal protein was associated with a 2 percent higher risk of death from any cause and an 8 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease during the study period. This association between animal protein and mortality was even stronger for people who were obese or heavy drinkers, researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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