• The secret to living a longer, healthier life could be quite simple, nutritious and delicious, according to the results of a new Japanese study. (Westend61/Getty Images)Source: Westend61/Getty Images
A new Japanese study reveals a potential secret to living a longer life, and it involves eating more plant-based proteins.
By
Yasmin Noone

27 Aug 2019 - 4:44 PM  UPDATED 27 Aug 2019 - 4:56 PM

The secret to living a longer, healthier life could be quite simple, nutritious and delicious, according to the results of a new Japanese study.

Research led by Japan’s National Cancer Centre, published in JAMA Internal Medicine today, shows that eating a diet that is rich in plant-based proteins may help you to live a long life.

The study looked at the dietary details of around 71,000 participants – mostly women, aged 55 years on average – collected at two time periods: the first was at some point from 1995 to 1999, and then later in 2016.

Participants who had a diet that was based on animal proteins consumed a lot of fish, shellfish, meat, processed meat, eggs, milk and dairy products. Sources of plant protein included all foods other than animal foods, like fruit, vegetables, herbs and wholegrains.

“We found that plant protein intake was associated with lower risk of all-cause and CVD-related mortality."

The researchers found that a higher intake of plant protein was associated with longer life overall and a reduction of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related deaths. 

“We found that plant protein intake was associated with a lower risk of all-cause and CVD-related mortality,” write the study’s authors in the published paper.

The study showed that replacing red meat protein or processed meat protein with plant protein was also associated with a lower risk of death overall and death related to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“Our study suggests that plant protein may provide beneficial health effects and that replacement of red and processed meat protein with plant or fish protein may increase longevity.”

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Replacing three per cent of total energy from red meat for plant protein could result in an absolute risk reduction of around 15 years, the researchers believe. 

“For an average person with 2000 kcal/d of energy intake, three per cent of energy from plant protein would be approximately 260 grams for a protein-rich food such as soy.”

“Our study suggests that plant protein may provide beneficial health effects and that replacement of red and processed meat protein with plant or fish protein may increase longevity.”

The study found that participants with a higher intake of animal protein consumed additional total energy and fat but fewer carbohydrates than people who ate more plant-based proteins.

On the flip side, plant protein lovers ate more carbs but consumed less total energy and fat. This group also had high intakes of soy foods, fruits and vegetables than people who followed a diet based on animal proteins.

How to eat more plant-based proteins

Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Simone Austin, says although the study was observational, the findings are meaningful.

It’s another study that adds to the current body of evidence that shows we definitely need to eat more plant-based foods to help our health and reduce our risk of chronic disease,” Austin tells SBS. “It’s all about the power of plants.”

Austin says that currently, most Australians don’t eat enough vegetables, fruits or wholegrains. So increasing the amount of plant-based protein consumed in your diet may be an essential move towards good health.

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“If you follow the advice, ‘eat more plant foods’, it will crowd out the amount of animal-based foods on your plate and in your diet anyway.

“So try and plan your meals around plants rather than saying ‘let’s have chicken or beef for dinner’. Let’s make the plant part the hero of the dish and the animal protein the accompaniment, rather than the other way around.”

“The thing to be cautious about is that sometimes, when we pick up recipe ideas from international cuisines [that aren’t our own], we may not eat it the way it is intended."

Austin recommends that home cooks look overseas to international cuisines for recipes, which celebrate plant-based proteins - tofu, tempeh, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa and beans.

For example, the Mediterranean diet and traditional Japanese diet is heavy on plant-based proteins and hero vegetables or soy products in many interesting ways.

“The thing to be cautious about is that sometimes when we pick up recipe ideas from international cuisines [that aren’t our own], we may not eat it the way it is intended.

“We may do a stir-fry with a massive amount of rice. Then, we add the meat, followed by a token amount of vegetables. That’s not how it is designed to be even though we call it a ‘stir-fry’.

“So if you are going to borrow plant-based recipe tips from international cuisines, make sure you eat the meal the same way it is eaten in its country of origin.”

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