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September 6th, 2010
07:09 PM ET

Animal-based protein diets increase mortality rate

Not all proteins are equal when it comes to the health of dieters eating low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets.

Animal-based proteins and fats are associated with increased mortality rates, including increased cardiovascular mortality and increased cancer mortality, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes. But low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets composed mostly of plant-based proteins and fats were associated with lower mortality rates overall and lower cardiovascular mortality rates.

The study followed more than 85,000 women and 44,500 men for a period of 20 to 26 years. All the study participants were without heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. To reach their conclusion, the study authors accounted for lifestyle factors such as smoking, exercise, multivitamin use, and alcohol intake. The study participants were all health professionals who filled out regular questionnaires about their food intake over the long follow-up period. The study authors acknowledged that while the large sample of participants was a strength of the study, its participant pool of all health care professionals was a limitation because it was not representative of the larger population.

The benefits of eating a low-carbohydrate, plant-based diet

Results of the study confirmed a "direct association" between animal-based low-carbohydrate food intake in men and increased cancer deaths, particularly from colorectal and lung cancer. That association aligns with previous studies that have confirmed a link between red meat, processed meat, and those two types of cancers. The study also found that men and women who ate diets heavy in animal-based proteins had higher averages BMIs and were more likely to smoke. Yet men and women who ate more plant or vegetable-based proteins and fats ate more whole grains and tended to drink more alcohol.

"The protein you get from combining rice and beans is the same quality as what you get from eggs and steak. You just don't get all the other stuff that's bad for you, " says Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, who is not affiliated with this study.

"This is the diet that I've been advocating for for 30 years."

The study authors say the low-carb, high-protein diets followed by its participants "were not designed to mimic any particular versions of low-carbohydrate diets available in the popular literature." Yet when most people think of a high-protein eating plan, they think of the Atkins diet. Atkins says nothing about its eating plans can be deduced by this study. In a statement to CNN, the company says, "Major clinical research has demonstrated the health benefits of low-carb diets," including several dozen articles on the Atkins protocols that "demonstrate positive results in terms of weight loss, as well as improvements in lipid profiles, reduced inflammation and better blood sugar control."

Dieters interested in eating more plant and vegetable-based proteins should consider adding tofu, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds in to their diet. Sunflower oil, olive oil, canola oil, soy oil, and peanut oil are also great sources of plant-based fats.

"Plant-based diets – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a little fish, soy products, legumes – you want to eat more towards that end of the spectrum, not exclusively vegetarian," says Ornish.


soundoff (276 Responses)
  1. beefforjc

    My Aunt owns a operating brown angus cattle ranch in cal. I have grown up eating meat, chicken and fish. I am 40 years old and take care of myself. I eat a balanced meal, I love salads, eat my veggies and have meat approx. 1-2 times a week. My labs, lipids, triglycerides,HDL,LDL, liver function, kidneys are like an 18 year old. I work out, surf, mountain bike, hike and even lay on the couch and watch TV a lot. My family lives to be in their late 80's early 90's, and they all eat beef, not just a little, moderately. My grandparents are 87 and 86 and are still going strong after all of these years. So, I ask you, how is this possible?? Humans are omnivors. Since the beginning of mankind we have eaten what the earth provides us. If you are a christian, you know that animals were pt here to support us, so were the plants. If you not a christian, no offense intended. I will continue to eat meat and veggies in moderation and live a healthy life.

    September 7, 2010 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CR

      Agreed. It's all about balance. Good for you!

      September 8, 2010 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
  2. Bmswans

    I have to agree and disagree with some of the points made throughout this particular article. I do in fact agree that if a person is eating a 70/30 hamburger everyday, then of course it would not be as healthy as eating vegetable based protein such as lentils. I also agree that it is important for individuals to have a variety of foods in their diet consisting of lower fat, moderate carbohydrates and protein. How a person may get these macro-nutrients in their diet to me is very important to understand. The part where I disagree is a person can eat a 95/5 lean hamburger vs. a soy burger (which usually has more added sodium) that would have almost equal amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats. The vegetable based food in this example may actually be more unhealthy for a person. I believe by following nutrition labels a person can make wise decisions regarding their personal food intake. I am by no means saying that eating lean beef/steak/chicken all the time is healthier over vegetable based products, but condoning people add variety and colors into their diet. By eating different foods from both LEAN animal based proteins and vegetable based proteins along with fruits/vegetables is important for a healthy eater.

    September 7, 2010 at 22:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Eric

    This is stupid. The mortality rate for humans is 100% regardless of what you eat.

    September 7, 2010 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. DrVonBrain

    From an early age we have been heavily indoctrinated to eat meat. So, whenever research like this pops up, it's only natural for the meat-eaters among us to engage in heavy rationalization. This amounts to demonizing fruits and vegetables....almost as if these are toxic foods.

    September 7, 2010 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martin Levac

      DrVonBrain, can you tell us what defense mechanisms plants have against aggressors? And can you tell us if these defense mechanisms have any effect on humans who eat those plants? Once you figure that one out, you'll see why all plants are considered toxic a priori. Then you'll understand why we must process these plants before we eat them.

      September 8, 2010 at 01:38 | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    I am certain the mortality rates are equal between the herbivores and the omnivores.

    September 7, 2010 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kieran

    "Limitations: Diet and lifestyle characteristics were assessed with some degree of error. Sensitivity analyses indicated that results were probably not substantively affected by residual confounding or an unmeasured confounder. Participants were not a representative sample of the U.S. population.

    Follow the link, the guy who carried the study out had this idea 30 years ago and set out to find people who would "prove" him correct.

    September 7, 2010 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. MelvinJ

    The study is not entirely honest. No matter what one eats, the mortality rate for humans is 100%.

    September 8, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Uh...really?

    This just in, President Kennedy has escalated the level of military advisors in Southeast Asia and today integration has become the official policy of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.

    September 8, 2010 at 01:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. X

    OK fine. There may well be a soy industry out there profiting from this study. That still doesn't take away the fact that soy, combined with other vegetable food source, is healthy for you. And no, you don't have to eat bland tofu every day. There are all kinds of ways it is used and prepared in Asian countries, and it's simply a part of a high-vegetable diet, not the main part.

    September 8, 2010 at 02:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. JVC

    Agree with MelvinJ, we're all dead in the long run... mortality rates are 100%!

    September 8, 2010 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Miss L

    re the article my biggest gripe is the commentator who said that the veggie burgers had to contain extra salt because OBVIOUSLY they don't taste as good...wtf!? there are some really wonderful non-meat products out there and not all non meat protien comes from soy. Mushrooms, lentils, beans n rice. if you don't like the taste of prepackaged food.. here's a radical idea.. get in the kitchen and cook ! honestly this world has become so dependant on over processed food its ridiculous. and don't even think about using the, i'm busy I work argument. I was a single mom for 16 yrs and always managed to come home and put a homecooked meal on the table, now both my husband and I work, raise 2 kids and have recently made the conversion to being vegan. we both love meat, but have made the decision to stop poisioning ourselves with foods we are not meant to eat.

    September 8, 2010 at 03:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gala12

      What makes you think that you are not meant to eat meat?The history of human evolution and the anatomy of your digestive system points into different direction.

      September 8, 2010 at 11:26 | Report abuse |
    • Miss L

      I had my gallbladder removed last year and everytime I ate meat it played havoc with my digestive system and caused nausea. there is an argument that humans are not physically built to be meat eaters. no canines, claws and a much longer disgestive tract than animals who eat meat. I can only speak to my experience but since dropping all animal products, I sleep better, my nails are stronger, my skin is brighter, I have loads more energy, and I no longer need to take my asthma inhalers (confimred by my doctor).

      September 9, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse |
    • Galina12

      To Miss L.
      Our digestive system is completely different than ones that plant-eating animal have (much shorter, digest food in 3-4 hours , contain enzymes to digest proteins, shape of teeth is similar to carnivores and much more). It is,indeed, slightly longer than 100% carnivores do have. So, anatomically we are omnivores. We also are very different. I have my own health success story that includes excluding grains, starches and sugars, leaving behind premenopausal mood swings and migraines, and weight loss. I eat now eggs, good quality meats, vegetables, watch palace between omega-3 and -6 oils. Several years ago my gall bladder was removed too (before my new diet) .

      September 9, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse |
  12. dragon himari

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    September 8, 2010 at 04:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. m

    Finally, a study to affirm what I suspected. If you want to control your weight, avoid bread like the plague. If you are starving and have little money for food, buy bread because it fills you up and adds lots and lots of calories.

    September 8, 2010 at 06:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. saad

    last thing i knew all humans that i know and have heard of all die! this articles headline is very dumb to say the least. It should say early death if anything which I highly doubt ...bad article

    September 8, 2010 at 07:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. BILL

    This study followed 85,000 women and 44,500 men for 10 to 26 years. This is a study that cannot be ignored.
    Unfortunately, I do not see any mention of how much meat people did or did not eat. I also wonder how active the participants were?

    The Blue Zone Study has looked at peoples lifestyles world wide and has found that there are places were people live to be almost 100. A lot of factors have been looked at, one is diet. This on-going study also found that long living people eat small amounts of meat, but a lot of other factors have been looked at such as weight, activity level, community ties etc.

    As Americans we have a odd habit of focusing one one thing such as a meatless diet, fish oil, Vitamin D etc. and think
    if we change that one thing we will become healthy. Long life and good health is a combination of factors that we call lifestyle.

    September 8, 2010 at 07:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martin Levac

      On the contrary, it is a study that can be ignored because it was based on a food questionaire. Do you know what that means? It's not science. And do you know what that means? It's an opinion. As far as I know, opinions are being ignored all the time and the entire world is just fine with that.

      September 8, 2010 at 21:22 | Report abuse |
  16. Boka

    Soy is not good for men. Soy produces estrogen that causes men to have prostate cancer. No Soy. Yes to eggs.

    September 8, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Bruce in Colorado

    In another study funded by the Tobacco Lobby, cigarettes are deemed to be a rich source of amino acids and are the key to a long active healthy life making you much more attractive to potential mates. So smoke now, and lots.

    NO, it's not slanted. Why would you think that?

    September 8, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Leslie

    Another long-term vegan here (10 years, 17 years vegetarian) and do my best to eat UNPROCESSED plant foods, although I do have a weakness for tofu LOL. Bloodwork is fine, except a little low in iron, so I started taking blackstrap molasses. B-12 levels fine even though my supplementation is hit and miss, I get most B-12 from nutritional yeast. I like the comment "a person is an experiment of one," so true. But I feel so great when I make it a point to eat only unprocessed foods and cut out sugar, excess fat, deep fried stuff, etc. Everybody should try that experiment just to see what it feels like to have that "every cell is nourished" feeling. Eating this way seems so natural and right, I could never go back to eating animals, it's just unthinkable.

    September 8, 2010 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martin Levac

      Excess fat is an oxymoron. You can't eat too much fat or you'd know it very quickly and stop right there and then. So that's not an actual problem. Deep fried is not a problem either when it's fried in animal fat. Animal fat which has never been a problem for humans ever since we became human some 2.5 million years ago. That's not an actual problem either. Processing allows us to get to the nutrients which would otherwise be unavailable to us were we to eat raw food that we just can't digest. Processing is not the problem when it's the substance itself that makes us sick like vegetable oil for example: We don't hydrogenate animal fat, you see. That's not an actual problem either.

      But cut out the sugar, now you're talking about an actual problem that has a real solution. So is it really your vegan diet that allowed you to return to good health? Or is it just the fact that you cut out sugar from your diet? You know, in spite of eating low fat, in spite of eating no meat, in spite of eating lots and lots of stuff that you can't actually digest like fiber, you cut out the sugar which is probably the worst thing you can eat by a mile and it is that last thing which allows you to return to good health?

      Look, I'm just giving you an alternative way of looking at things.

      September 8, 2010 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • Candice

      Martin Levac, you can't be serious. "Deep fried is not a problem either when it's fried in animal fat. Animal fat which has never been a problem for humans ever since we became human some 2.5 million years ago. " Hello obesity and heart attack! What you say goes against all medical science. Thanks for alternative way of looking at things.

      September 12, 2010 at 12:48 | Report abuse |
  19. Ineke de Wild

    Excuse me?soy is no food???
    food is not what hurts, bleeds and tries to run away.
    Soy is a very healthy product for people. most manipulated soy is cattlefood,
    why not think further then your self but see the bigger picture
    if people would realise what the animal products use is doing, they would not use a milligram of it anymore.
    For a real good progress it's best to stop with the use of all animal products and there will plenty food and water, health and sanity in people, To create meat and other animal products you need from 3 up to 20 times more vegetable food, and 50 to 200 times more water, Plants need CO2 there are just not enough plants becaus of the drought.(due to cattlefarming) the globe is in average to cold (14C/57F) and out of balance, (from -80C /-112F/ up to +60C /+140F), which is of no use to anyone, the globe needs to warm up and balance, more evaporation=more rain, (and allong with the worldwide use of electrical cars) we wil have the good greenhouse effect. Even with dissolved permafrost we will need all te land to grow crops for mineral oil replacements and food for the people, and all the water to create good sanitations world wide. with animal product that will never be possible.Try to stimulate the creation and availability of meat and other animal products replacements, and try to start with vegan agriculture.

    Besides vegan food is indeed far more healthy and delicious.

    September 8, 2010 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mike

      Soy isn't food...the only food has to be caught like killing a cow, dragging it back to your cave, and eating it between 2 buns. HAHA

      September 9, 2010 at 16:59 | Report abuse |
    • Galina12

      I agree that from economical point of view it is impossible for all humanity to ear grass-fed beef . So let poor people eat their grains, chips and sugared junk. If all people start to eat healthy it will be disaster for our economy . Imagine that – no one is buying products from genetically engineered soy, corn , ets. and everybody manages to stay alive till 100. !

      September 9, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  20. mike

    If you ask me everything increases the risk of everything...Tell me last time you heard of 1 thing that didn't have SOME kind of risk to it... I would much rather die physically fit with a Cheese burger in my hand than have to worry every waking second about whether this has beef broth in it.

    September 9, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Gary

    I have been a vegan for 27 years and soy has never caused me any health problems, and my thyroid is perfectly normal.

    September 11, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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  23. frank

    I find all of the information and details about all natural feeds extremely interesting, that is why Fornazor is awesome. Fornazor offers many different types of feed for your animals. We focus on all natural ingredients full of protein. Their enriched feed ingredients include animal proteins, marine proteins, and vegetable proteins. Surprisingly, they are constantly growing and developing products to ensure the best feed possible. Check out http://www.fornazor.com.

    October 14, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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