A new study reveals a strong relationship between plant protein intake and healthy aging in midlife women.The findings were published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1
Compared with animal protein, dairy protein, and total protein, midlife plant protein intake was associated with the most favorable outcomes across multiple health indicators. These include maintaining cognitive and physical function, freedom from chronic disease, and good mental health.
Although past research has examined the effects of protein intake on overall health, the benefits of specific protein sources remain unclear. In conducting the longitudinal study, researchers sought to collect data on the long-term effects of dietary protein intake in midlife and its unique contribution to healthy aging in women.
In 1984, nearly 85,000 registered female nurses filled out the Nurses’ Health Study questionnaire about their lifestyle and medical history, and investigators selected 48,762 women for this analysis. All participants were younger than 60 years old, and the average age of participants was 48.6 years. Data were collected between 1984 and 2016.
Respondents were asked to answer survey items about four separate health domains that investigators use to define healthy aging: freedom from major chronic disease, mental health, freedom from memory impairment, and maintenance of physical function. Eleven major chronic diseases were selected for evaluation, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Respondents were also asked to record food frequency trends. The main contributors considered are animal proteins such as beef, chicken, milk, fish/seafood, and cheese; milk, cheese, pizza, yogurt, and ice cream, for dairy protein; and bread, vegetables, fruits, pizza, cereals, baked goods, potatoes Puree, nuts, legumes, peanut butter and pasta for plant-based protein. To calculate total protein intake, the researchers multiplied the reported frequency of consumption of each food by its estimated protein content and then added the results across all foods.
When it comes to healthy aging, research results show that plant protein intake outperforms animal protein intake in all areas. In general, animal protein intake was adversely associated with a 6% lower odds of healthy aging (95% CI: 2%, 9%), while plant protein intake was associated with a 46% higher odds of healthy aging (30%, 65% ) is favorably related. Every 3% increase in energy will cause aging. Across all models, total protein and animal protein intake were associated with increased chronic disease risk, while dairy protein and plant protein were associated with reduced chronic disease risk.
Although no protein source has been shown to be linked to poor memory, plant protein intake (41%) [27%, 57%]) exceeds animal protein intake (5% [2%, 9%]) when it comes to increasing the likelihood of maintaining body function.
Plant protein was the only protein source significantly associated with good mental health.
Adverse diet-related health outcomes place a huge burden on individuals, with 1 in 5 deaths globally due to poor diet.2 The issue has been on the radar of U.S. legislators for more than five decades, dating back to 1972 when WIC was passed as a supplemental nutrition program designed to help low-income and malnourished mothers and children. In 2022, the White House hosted the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in more than 50 years. During the meeting, President Biden pledged to increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 to reduce the incidence of diet-related chronic diseases among Americans.3
Interventions that address diet-related health outcomes have begun to redefine healthy foods as medical approaches, reflecting the shift that characterizes the “food is medicine” movement. This movement has gained tremendous momentum over the past decade, promoting policies and programs that integrate food into healthcare settings.
One of the programs includes a produce prescription intervention, where health care providers provide benefits to eligible patients to promote fruit and vegetable consumption.4
In addition to passing legislation and implementing intervention strategies, research findings on the impact of plant protein intake on healthy aging provide scientific support for the idea that making informed dietary choices can help promote good health outcomes.