Want to Live a Long Life? Ditch the Meat, Study Says

A Mass General study says animal protein raises mortality risk, while plant protein lowers it.


Photo via istock.com/rez-art

You may want to steer clear of the burgers and dogs at your next summer barbecue, according to a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that meat-eaters are at a higher mortality risk than people who get their protein from plant sources, such as nuts, legumes, and beans. That said, red and processed meats seem to be worse than poultry and fish, according to the research.

Mass General’s researchers looked at data from two large, long-term studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—to find connections between diet and health. They found that for every 10 percent jump in animal protein consumption, overall mortality risk increases by 2 percent, and cardiovascular disease-related mortality increases by 8 percent. Each 3 percent increase in plant protein intake, however, lowers overall mortality risk by 10 percent, and cardiovascular mortality risk by 12 percent.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. The connection between animal protein and mortality risk was only present in people who were unhealthy in other areas of life—smokers, heavy drinkers, and overweight individuals, for example. People who were otherwise healthy ate meat without major consequences.

That phenomenon can likely be explained, says corresponding author Mingyang Song, by the types of animal proteins the two groups tend to choose.

“When we looked deeper into the data, we found that—at similar levels of animal protein intake—those in the unhealthy lifestyle group consumed more red meats, eggs and high-fat dairy, while the healthy lifestyle group consumed more fish and poultry,” Song said in a statement. “So we suspect the different sources of animal protein between the two groups may contribute to the stronger results in the unhealthy lifestyle group.”

Back to that summer barbecue scenario. Next time you host, why not forgo the mega-processed hot dogs? Veggie burgers and chicken are both excellent when grilled, we promise.