A two-decade study of more than 6,000 American adults found that those between the ages of 50 and 65 with diets high in animal protein were 74 percent more likely to meet an earlier death than those who consumed less animal protein or got their protein from non-animal sources.
Those in the highest category of risk, were four times more likely to die of cancer and almost double the risk of dying from any cause.
Published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the study also shows that after the age of 65, the trend dissipated, suggesting that a diet high in protein from animals or plants can be beneficial later in life.
“However, we also propose that at older ages, it may be important to avoid a low-protein diet to allow the maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty,” said Eileen Crimmins, who holds the AARP chair in Gerontology at University of Southern California, and is a co-author of the study.
This may be due to the shifting of hormones from middle age to later life stages that increases the demand for protein in the body.
Experts in the field say the findings do not change their recommendation that to maintain a healthy diet, moderation is key for adults.
Keith Ayoob, registered dietician and associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told ABC News that consumers should, “Look at where [their] diet is excessive and where it is deficient, and make up the differences.”
As long as people consume high-quality protein (think beans and not fried fish), and add more plant-based foods, they would lower the risk of an early death. Especially since those who have a diet with moderate protein intake were still three times more likely to die of cancer than those following a low-protein diet.
There could still be other factors involved, such as lifestyle choices, between those who are vegetarians and those regularly consume red meat, therefore although it’s too early to recommend avoiding meat altogether– plant-based proteins should be considered good alternatives.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on twitter @ReporterandGirl or on Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at www.SCRhyne.com