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Making This Food Swap Could Lengthen Your Life, New Study Suggests

Researchers found that this simple eating change is associated with lower all-cause and heart disease mortality.

There are lots of benefits to cutting back on meat in favor of eating more plant-based products. Doing so could protect your brain, help your skin, and boost your energy levels. Now, new research suggests that swapping out the calories you get from animal-based proteins for the same amount from plant-based proteins could help you live longer and lower your risk of dying from heart disease.

In the study, published in the journal Nutrients, researchers looked at data from a range of previous experiments, examining information from about 1.5 million adults  about the protein sources in their diets and their health outcomes.

Researchers not only found that swapping out calories from animal proteins for calories from plant proteins was associated with lower all-cause and heart disease mortality—they also found that subbing red meat for ​​bread, cereal, and pasta protein was especially strongly linked with lower heart disease mortality. Granted, filling your diet with refined grains has its own negative health consequences, so if you're adding more of these foods to your diet, opt for whole grains when possible.

plant based meal

Commenting on the study, Julieanna Hever, MS RD CPT, author of The Choose You Now Diet and The Healthspan Solution tells Eat This, Not That! that it adds to the growing evidence linking the substitution of animal-based products for their plant-based counterparts to lower mortality from diseases and longer lives.

"When looking broadly at the data, plant-based diets not only have the capacity to reduce the risk for chronic disease and mortality but also to reverse conditions as severe as advanced-stage cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes," Hever says.

For all the benefits of sticking to a plant-based diet, it can nonetheless be difficult to make the shift. You'll probably have better luck starting with small changes, rather than trying to cut out animal protein altogether.

"One of my favorite tips for getting more plant proteins into the diet is what I call 'going 50-50,'" Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CPT, author of The Plant-Forward Solution, says. "Simply swap half of the animal protein in a favorite recipe for a plant protein—this works well for many recipes."

For example, she recommends swapping out half the meat in a bolognese sauce for lentils. In general, she notes that adding an ounce of tofu or 1/4 cup of pulses can generally take the place of each "ounce or two" of meat. Additionally, Martin suggests using legume-based pastas to get more plant protein into your diet and adding protein-packed seeds to your meal when you can.

Whether you want to go totally vegan or just want to start adding a few more plant-based meals to your recipe, get inspired with these 33 Easy Plant-Based Recipes Even Carnivores Will Love.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more about Clara