Harvard Women's Health Watch

Substituting plant for animal protein may extend life for people with health risks

Research we're watching

plant protein extend life
Image: zhengzaishuru/ Thinkstock

It's well established that the amount of protein you eat can have health effects, but the effects of the source of your dietary protein are less clear. To get a better idea, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed databases of the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Together the two studies include more than 130,000 participants—two-thirds of them women—who were followed up to 32 years.

The researchers focused on people with at least one lifestyle risk factor, such as smoking, drinking alcohol in excess, being overweight, or failing to get enough exercise. When they looked at protein consumption in terms of death rates, they calculated that substituting a small portion of plant protein for an equal portion of animal protein might reduce the risk of dying over the next three decades by one-third for people whose health habits increase their likelihood of an early death. The study was published online by JAMA Internal Medicine Aug. 1, 2016.

If you're trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, making a shift from animal to plant protein can be one place to start. For example, you might try substituting tofu for ricotta in your next lasagna.