Foods rich in plant based protein may help women stay healthy as they age

Plant-based diets rich in protein from whole foods like beans, legumes, and nuts may help women stay healthy as they age, a new suggests. The new study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to new research, women who consumed more plant-based protein were healthier and developed fewer chronic diseases. 

Researchers discovered significantly less heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive health disease in those women who included more protein from plants in their diet and ate more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, bread, beans, legumes, and pasta, compared to those who ate less of these products. 

The study results show that women who regularly ate animal protein developed more chronic diseases. 

Andres Ardisson Korat, a scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing (HNRCA) at Tufts University, USA, the lead author of the study, commented, “Consuming protein in midlife was linked to promoting good health in older adulthood.

“We also found that the source of protein matters. Getting the majority of your protein from plant sources at midlife, plus a small amount of animal protein seems to be conducive to good health and good survival to older ages.”

“Those who consumed greater amounts of animal protein tended to have more chronic disease and didn’t manage to obtain the improved physical function that we normally associate with eating protein,” he added.

The researchers recommend that middle-aged women eat most of their protein from plants, vegetables, fruits, legumes, pulses, grains, nuts, and seeds, although they could also occasionally eat fish and meat for iron and vitamin B12. 

“Dietary protein intake, especially plant protein, in midlife plays an important role in the promotion of healthy ageing and in maintaining positive health status at older ages,” Dr Korat said.

The scientists analysed the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study, which followed women's health care from 1984 to 2016. The women included in the study were between 38 and 59 in 1984 and were in good physical and mental health when the study began.

Researchers analysed women's diet, specifically how frequently they ate certain foods, what protein they consumed and its effects on healthy ageing. Then they compared the diets of women who did not develop 11 chronic diseases or lose physical function or mental health with the diets of those who did.

The study results show that women who ate more plant-based protein from bread, vegetables, fruits, pizza, cereal, baked goods, potatoes, nuts, beans, peanut butter, and pasta (as defined in 1984 – were 46% more likely to be healthy as they aged. 

Those who obtained more animal protein from meat such as beef, chicken, seafood or milk and cheese were 6% less likely to stay healthy as they got older. 

The researchers discovered also that plant protein was linked with better mental health later in life.

For heart disease in particular, eating more plant protein came with lower levels of bad cholesterol, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. Higher animal protein consumption was linked to higher levels of bad cholesterol and increased insulin-like growth factor, which has been detected in multiple cancers.

The study also suggests that dairy protein consumption, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream, was not significantly linked with better health status in older adulthood.

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