1 October 2019


Greater consumption of plant-based proteins such as those found in cereals and legumes is associated with lower mortality risk, according to an observational study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Roughly 70,000 people aged 40 to 69 in Japan completed food frequency questionnaires. During a mean 18 years’ follow-up, 18% died.

Plant protein
Intake of plant protein was associated with lower total mortality. A similar pattern was seen for cardiovascular (e.g., heart disease and stroke) mortality, but not cancer-related mortality. In contrast, increasing intake of total or animal-based protein was not associated with mortality.

Swapping out 3% of energy from animal protein with plant protein resulted in lower risk for total, cardiovascular, and cancer-related mortality. Risk reductions were even greater when substituting plants for processed meats. The lack of an association between animal protein and mortality might be because animal consumption is generally lower in Japan than in the U.S., and the main animal protein is fish say the authors. They conclude: “Our study suggests that encouraging diets with higher plant-based protein intake may contribute to long-term health and longevity.”

Protein is widely available in our food supply. And while people talk about “protein foods”, no food is all protein and most of us eat a variety of foods containing many different proteins. As Dr David Katz says: “Dietary protein does not require animal foods, and does not require any specific food combinations. Wholesome foods in any balanced, sensible assembly – even a strictly vegan assembly – will readily provide it.”

Plant sources:

  • Beans, chickpeas or lentils (legumes/pulses) 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Grains, especially whole grains 
  • Starchy veggies (potato, sweet potato etc.) 
Animal sources:
  • Meat, poultry, and seafood 
  • Eggs 
  • Milk, cheese and yoghurt. 
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