Nutritional study links red meat to higher mortality

plate of veggies
CC BY 2.0 Max Kiesler

A new study compares the effects of animal and plant proteins, particularly on people whose health is already compromised by various risk factors.

If you are trying to reduce the amount of meat you eat, or if you’re already a committed vegan wanting more information for your anti-meat arsenal, there is yet another nutritional study supporting the idea that meat-free is better. Researchers from the United States and Italy came together to study the effects of animal and plant protein on humans and how it affects mortality, specifically for those who already have at least one unhealthy lifestyle factor. This factor could be smoking, obesity or overweight, high alcohol intake, or lack of physical activity.

The study, which was published online (ahead of print) on August 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at a total of 131,342 participants (64.7% women and 35.3% men), with mean age of 49. The individuals were taken from two studies that have been ongoing since the 1980s, providing 30 years of data from one (the Nurses’ Health Study) and 26 years from the other (the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study).

The researchers found:

“After adjusting for major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, animal protein intake was weakly associated with higher mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality, whereas plant protein was associated with lower mortality.”

When plant protein was substituted for animal protein (especially red meat) in equivalent amounts, it was associated with lower mortality, which suggests the importance of getting one’s protein from alternative sources.

Food Navigator’s Will Chu cites lead study author Dr. Mingyang Song in an article about the study: “Our findings suggest that people should consider eating more plant proteins than animal proteins, and when they do, choose fish and chicken.”

This particular study raises one obvious question: What if the study participants did not have any lifestyle risk factors? If, however, reducing meat and increasing plant protein intake is able to improve the risk of mortality of someone whose health is already compromised, then surely it will also help to improve the health of people who already care for their bodies by not engaging in lifestyle risk factors. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt to try.

Related Content on