Finnish researchers found that a diet rich in animal protein, particularly red meat, increases a person’s risk of death compared to individuals who include plant-based protein in their diet.

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The study was performed by a team of researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, who analyzed the data from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD). The study included the diets of about 2,600 Finnish men aged between 42 and 60 at the start of the study in 1984. Researchers performed follow-ups with the participants up 20 years after the study’s onset.

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The results suggest that men whose primary source of protein was animal-based had a 23% higher risk of death compared to men who ate a balanced ratio of animal and plant-based protein. Specifically, men who ate more than 200 grams of meat per day had a 23% higher risk of premature death during the follow-up than men whose meat intake was less than 100 grams per day. As a caveat, the study only included Finnish men who primarily consumed red meat (i.e. pork, beef), which is associated with more health problems than white meat (i.e. chicken).

Previously, researchers found that red meat (and processed meats) causes cancer, common inflammatory bowel condition, and raises the risk of premature death.

High protein intake, whether animal- or plant-based, was associated with a greater risk of death in individuals who had type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer at the onset of the study. High protein intake did not seem to be associated with an increase in the risk of death for healthy people.

“However, these findings should not be generalized to older people who are at a greater risk of malnutrition and whose intake of protein often remains below the recommended amount,” Ph.D. Student Heli Virtanen from the University of Eastern Finland points out.

The findings appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the future, researchers would like to gain a better understanding of the relationship between different sources of protein and their health effects.