“Plant proteins better for you than animal proteins,” say scientists.
You might recall from your days in education that the standard food pyramid has the following basic structure:
- Fruits and vegetables at the bottom,
- Whole grains and carbohydrates at the next level,
- Dairy products above that,
- Meats and other proteins next,
- Fats, spreads and oils
- Limited sugary, salty and high fat foods at the apex.
This is shown below:
This has been the mainstay of both standard and health education for at least the past one hundred years in one form or another. However, there has been a growing chorus of voices that have expressed dissent in relation to the standard model. The main point of contention has been the proteins obtained from animal sources at the third and fourth levels.
It is therefore noteworthy that the British Medical Journal published a paper last week that looked at the relative benefits of animal and plant proteins on cardiovascular health and the risks of early death or death from cancer. In technical terms, the study design involved a combination of a systematic review of 32 and meta-analysis of 31 prospective cohort studies. This involved 715 128 participants, followed over a course of 3.5 to 32 years. The study title was:
Dietary intake of total, animal, and plant proteins and risk of all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studiesSina Naghshi, Omid Sadeghi, Walter C Willett, Ahmad Esmaillzadeh
And so, what were the findings from the research? The authors present the following conclusion:
“Higher intake of total protein was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality, and intake of plant protein was associated with a lower risk of all cause and cardiovascular disease mortality. Replacement of foods high in animal protein with plant protein sources could be associated with longevity.”
In simple terms, you are less likely to die overall if you eat a plant based diet than if you eat meat. Your overall health will be better and you will live longer.
The authors note that the observed inverse associations between plant protein intake and mortality from all causes and CV disease remained significant in studies that controlled for energy, BMI, and macronutrient intake, and in studies that applied a food frequency questionnaire for dietary assessment.
They discuss previous research showing reduction in processed meat intake was associated with a small reduction in cancer mortality, and suggest the lack of association in their review could be due to combining protein from different animal sources; also the different associations of animal meat and animal protein intake (with mortality explained by the fat content of meat, for example). Different methods used in the processing and cooking of meats could also explain the discrepancy.
The authors conclude that their findings support current dietary recommendations to increase consumption of plant proteins in the general population, with an additional 3% of energy from plant proteins a day associated with a 5% lower risk of death from all causes.
So, where does that leave our original food pyramid? What are acceptable sources of “plant protein?” The folks over at the Vegan Food Pyramid provide the following useful alternative. It replaces animal proteins with plant-based alternatives and eliminates solid spreads.
It’s certainly worth looking at.