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When it comes to living longer, the sexes don’t appear to be created equally.
On average, women outlive their male counterparts by 6 years. And when it comes to the truly long-lived — those who live to at least 100 — women make up 85 percent of the centenarian club.
But a woman’s longer life may not be all cupcakes and roses. In fact, for most women, those additional years are spent dealing with chronic disease and include more years of disability due to declining health.
Is there a way women can have their cake and eat it too? There certainly is, thanks to research that shows simply choosing the right protein source can make a woman’s golden years truly golden…
It’s all about that protein
A Tufts University study analyzing self-reported data from more than 48,000 women discovered a dietary secret crucial to helping women develop fewer chronic diseases and enjoy better overall health as they age.
The secret? Protein — but not just from your typical meat and dairy sources…
According to lead author Dr. Andres Ardisson Korat, “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.”
In fact, the researchers saw notably less heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and cognitive and mental health decline, in women who included more protein in their diets from sources such as fruits, vegetables, bread, beans, legumes, and pasta, compared to those who ate less.
And it really paid off in a big way…
Women who ate more plant-based proteins were 46 percent more likely to be healthy in their later years, compared with only six percent who relied on animal and dairy sources of protein.
Plant protein was consistently linked with sound mental health later in life and lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) levels, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.
Animal protein, on the other hand, was tied to higher levels of all those metabolic markers — along with increased insulin-like growth factor, which has been detected in multiple cancers.
The team’s 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.
Put more plant-based protein on your plate
If you guessed this isn’t the first time the health benefits of plant-based diets have been scrutinized and extolled by science, you’d be right…
- A 2019 study from researchers at Harvard found that swapping out protein from red meat for plant-based protein sources reduced risk factors for heart disease.
- A 2016 study found that plant-based protein sources like beans and peas keep you full longer than animal-based protein sources like veal and pork.
- And another 2016 study found that people who got their protein from a lot of meat, eggs or dairy were more likely to die prematurely than those who got their protein from bread, cereals, pasta, beans, nuts and legumes.
There’s also good reason for men to follow suit…
Research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute saw healthy life-lengthening benefits for both men and women who consumed higher than average amounts of plant-based protein that added up to a 5 percent lower mortality rate over a 16-year period.
So what are you waiting for? You don’t need to give up meat entirely, but the research is clear: the bulk of your diet should be vegetables, legumes, and seeds that are full of protein.
You’ve got lots of choices to choose from, including:
- Chia seeds
- Beans and rice
- Green peas
Start adding these to your diet now, and reap the benefits in years to come!
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Dietary protein intake in midlife in relation to healthy aging – results from the prospective Nurses’ Health Study cohort — American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Women’s excess unhealthy life years: disentangling the unhealthy life years gap — European Journal of Public Health