Swapping just 100 calories of meat a day for a veggie substitute may help you live longer - here's why

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 11:36 am
Updated Friday, 3rd April 2020, 2:55 pm

Photo: Shutterstock

Swapping small amounts of meat for vegetarian substitutes may have a dramatic effect on our life expectancy, a new study suggests.

Researchers have discovered that replacing just 100 calories worth of meat a day with plant protein has been linked to a 50 per cent decreased risk of death.

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Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at the diets of 37,000 American adults and got them to replace just five per cent of their total meat calories a day with plant protein from nuts, beans and whole grains.

They collected 24 hour food diaries from eight cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2014. Causes of death over that period were noted, and the researchers were able to compare protein sources in the diet to the risk of dying.

Plant protein reduces risk of heart disease

Results showed that those who ate the most plant protein were 27 per cent less likely to die of any cause, compared to people who ate the least amount of plant protein. They were also 29 per cent less likely to die of coronary heart disease (CHD), a major cause of death worldwide.

Replacing five per cent of daily calories from animal sources with plant protein was linked to a nearly 50 per cent decrease of dying from any cause. In fact, replacing just two per cent of daily calories with plant-based food was associated with a 32 per cent lower risk of death.

Generally, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men, which would mean swapping as few as 100 calories of red meat.

The study, led by Dr Zhilei Shan of Harvard School of Public Health, was presented at the American Heart Association's Council on Epidemiology and Prevention.

How to change your diet for the better

Dr Shan said it's not enough to just cut out red meat, it’s about what you choose to replace the red meat with.

"Healthy plant proteins include other beneficial nutrients such as healthy fats, antioxidant vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (compounds derived from plants), which have been associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers," she said.

Strengths of the study include its nationally representative sample and gathering of health data over an extended period of time. However, the dietary information was assessed only when participants started the study, so the findings did not account for diet changes people made later.

Poor diet kills 90,000 Brits a year

As reported in the Metro, last year, a major global study published in The Lancet found that poor diet kills 90,000 Brits a year – with a lack of whole grains, nuts and fruits being the biggest triggers.

Meanwhile, a 2017 study by Imperial College London found that eating more fruits and veg may prevent millions of premature deaths.

The results revealed that even a daily intake of 200g of plants was associated with a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, an 18 per cent reduced risk of stroke, and a 13 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association recommends dietary patterns that emphasise fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts - and limits processed red meat and sugary drinks.

The NHS says if you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, you should consider cutting down to 70g, which is the average daily consumption in the UK.