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Women who eat more protein-rich plant-based foods are ‘healthier as they age’ – The Telegraph

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Women who get more of their protein from plant-based foods instead of meat tend to be healthier as they age, scientists have found.

Middle-aged women are almost 50 per cent more likely to be healthier as they get older if they eat plenty of beans, nuts and other animal-free forms of protein rather than meat, according to a study.

Researchers said they observed notably fewer cases of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and cognitive and mental health decline in those who ate the most fruits, vegetables, bread, legumes, and pasta.

Women who ate greater amounts of animal protein, however, were more likely to have some form of chronic disease, according to the findings.

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

“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 in 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.”

‘Plant protein plays an important role’

Researchers suggest their findings support the recommendation that women eat most of their protein in the form of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, although they should also consume some fish and animal protein for their iron and vitamin B12 content.

An omnivorous diet, that leans towards plant-based sources, is likely best for middle-aged women to ensure a long and healthy life, the findings suggest.

“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 Ardisson Korat said.

The researchers looked at the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study, which followed female healthcare professionals from 1984 to 2016.

The women were between the ages of 38 and 59 in 1984 and deemed to be in good physical and mental health at the start of the study.

Researchers looked at data on how frequently people ate certain foods to identify dietary protein and its effects on healthy ageing.

The diets of women who did not develop 11 chronic diseases or lose a lot of physical function or mental health were compared with the food intake of those who did.

According to the findings, women who ate more plant-based protein – which in 1984 was defined as protein obtained from bread, vegetables, fruits, pizza, cereal, baked items, mashed potatoes, nuts, beans, peanut butter, and pasta – were 46 per cent more likely to be healthy into their later years.

Those who consumed more animal protein such as beef, chicken, milk, fish and cheese, however, were six per cent less likely to stay healthy as they aged.

The study found that plant protein was also more closely linked with sound 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, while higher animal protein intake was tied to higher levels, along with increased insulin-like growth factor, which has been detected in multiple cancers.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also suggest that dairy protein alone, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, was not significantly associated with better health status in older adulthood.

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