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Plant Protein Intake Linked to Reduced Dementia, Cardiovascular Risk

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Plant Protein Intake Linked to Reduced Dementia, Cardiovascular Risk

Getting protein from plants in the diet was linked to health benefits including a reduced risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease in older women, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers looked at data from a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative, which enrolled participants between 1993 and 1998 and followed them through February 2017. There were 102,521 participants, all of them women, who were followed for an average of 18.3 years. During this period, 25,976 of them died. For the latest study based on this data set, the researchers looked for links between the participants’ plant protein intake — based on dietary assessments they were given — and a range of outcomes, including the risk of death.

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Participants were divided into five groups of equal size based on their intake of plant protein. Compared with participants with the lowest intake of plant protein, those with the highest intake were 9% less likely to die of all causes, 12% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, and 21% less likely to die from forms of dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease).

Participants were also divided into five groups of equal size, separately, based on their consumption of both processed and unprocessed red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Compared with the lowest level of consumption, those who consumed the most processed red meat were 6% more likely to die, while those with the highest egg consumption were 14% more likely to die. By the same type of comparison, consuming the highest level of unprocessed red meat was linked to a 12% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and consuming the highest level of dairy products was linked to an 11% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

The highest level of processed red meat consumption was linked to a 20% higher risk of death from dementia, while the highest level of poultry consumption was linked to a 15% lower risk of death from dementia. The highest level of egg consumption was also linked to a 14% lower risk of death from dementia, in contrast to the higher overall death risk linked to eggs. But the highest level of egg consumption was linked to a 10% higher risk of death from cancer.,/

The researchers performed what’s known as a substitution analysis, in which they calculated the effects of substituting one form of protein for another. They found that substituting animal protein with plant protein was linked to lower risks of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and dementia. Substituting red meat, eggs or dairy products with nuts, in particular, was linked to a lower risk of death from all causes.

“Our findings support the need for consideration of protein sources in future dietary guidelines,” the researchers concluded — alluding to the fact that in current guidelines, groups of “healthy” animal and plant proteins are often grouped together. In the meantime, it looks like many people — and women in particular — could benefit from including more nuts, and less red meat, eggs and dairy products in their diet.

Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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