Women who consume higher amounts of protein, particularly from plant-based sources, are less likely to develop chronic diseases and more likely to maintain good health as they age, a new study has said.
In the study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers analysed self-reported data from over 48,000 women and noted less heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and cognitive and mental health decline in those who included more protein in their diets from sources such as fruits, vegetables, bread, beans, legumes, and pasta, compared to those who ate less.
"Consuming protein in midlife was linked to promoting good health in older adulthood," said Andres Ardisson Korat, a scientist at the US-based Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) and lead author of the study. "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," he added.
Moreover, the researchers noted that those who consumed more animal protein such as beef, chicken, milk, fish/seafood, and cheese were 6 per cent less likely to stay healthy as they aged. "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," said Korat.
Animal protein was modestly associated with fewer physical limitations in older age, but plant protein had a stronger, more consistent correlation across all observed models and was more closely linked with sound mental health later in life. Higher consumption of plant protein has been associated with lower levels of LDL cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol), blood pressure, and improved insulin sensitivity in relation to heart disease.
On the other hand, a higher intake of animal protein has been linked to higher levels of LDL cholesterol and increased insulin-like growth factor, which has been identified as a potential factor in multiple cancers, the study mentioned. "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," Korat said.