Proteins: a vital nutrient for human health

Eating plant-based proteins, supplemented with small amounts of animal proteins during middle age, helps improve overall physical health.

Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body, with plant-based proteins offering lower levels of fats and cholesterol while being richer in dietary fibers.

Recent research highlights that an increased intake of plant proteins not only reduces the risk of chronic diseases but also contributes to a longer lifespan.

The study

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that middle-aged women consuming higher amounts of plant proteins had a decreased likelihood of developing 11 chronic diseases as they aged. Their mental health, cognitive function, and physical well-being also appeared superior.

Researchers found that participants who consumed more proteins from fruits, vegetables, legumes, bread, and pasta had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes compared to those who consumed these foods less. Additionally, they experienced less decline in cognitive and mental health.

The study analyzed data from 48,762 participants of the Nurses’ Health Study, with an initial average age of about 48, followed for over 30 years. It examined their intake of total proteins, animal proteins, milk proteins, and plant proteins to assess the relationship between protein levels, types, and healthy aging.

Healthy aging was defined as the absence of 11 major chronic diseases, good mental health, and intact memory and physical functions. The 11 diseases included:

  • Cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Stroke
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease.

Animal protein sources for participants included beef, chicken, fish, and seafood, as well as dairy proteins from milk, cheese, pizza, yogurt, and ice cream. Plant proteins primarily came from bread, fruit, vegetables, cereals, legumes, beans, peanut butter, mashed potatoes, and pasta.

The findings underscored that for every 3% increase in plant protein consumption in the diet, the likelihood of experiencing healthy aging in the future increased by 38%.

Researchers also discovered that replacing 3% of total caloric intake with plant proteins instead of equivalent calories from saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, animal proteins, or milk proteins significantly increased the chances of healthy aging from 22 to 58%.

They emphasized that edamame, black beans, and organic yellow soybeans boast high protein content and low fat. Despite containing some starch, legumes have enzymes that inhibit the enzymes breaking down starch, leading to a remarkably low glycemic index. As such, they serve as excellent sources for protein supplementation.

Furthermore, researchers noted that a lack of quality proteins could potentially lead to reduced muscle mass, slowed metabolism, persistent fatigue, and a decrease in energy levels.

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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