White and green chickpeas are one source of plant-based protein. Credit: By Sanjay Acharya - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3131388

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Mark A. Kellner

Online Content Editor

Want protein and lower mortality? Look at plants, new study says

Major independent study supports traditional Adventist counsel on diet.

People whose lifestyle includes a high intake of protein from plant sources are "associated with a lower risk of death," suggests a new study led by a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and published in the August 1 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to the study itself, "High animal protein intake was positively associated with mortality and high plant protein intake was inversely associated with mortality, especially among individuals with at least [one] lifestyle risk factor" such as "smoking, heavy alcohol intake, overweight or obesity, and physical inactivity."

This is believed to be one of the few times medical researchers have considered the source, or type, of animal protein when evaluating mortality rates, a hospital statement noted.

"Overall, our findings support the importance of the sources of dietary protein for long-term health outcomes," Mingyang Song, MD, ScD, a research fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit (CTEU) and Division of Gastroenterology and corresponding author of the report, said in the statement. "…The particular foods that people consume to get protein are equally important. Our findings also have public health implications and can help refine current dietary recommendations about protein intake, in light of the fact that it is not only the amount of protein but the specific food sources that is critical for long-term health."

Dr. Song added, "Our findings suggest that people should consider eating more plant proteins than animal proteins, and when they do choose among sources of animal protein, fish and chicken are probably better choices."

As noted in numerous Adventist Review reports, Seventh-day Adventists have long been taught the importance of a balanced vegetarian, or even vegan (total vegetarian diet with supplementation of Vitamins B12, D and calcium) diet, from which protein can be derived. In Counsels on Health, page 450, church co-founder Ellen G. White writes, "Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet. We should ever keep this end in view, and endeavor to work steadily toward it."

Dr. Peter Landless, a physician who has completed specialized training in family medicine, internal medicine and cardiology and now serves as director of health ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist world church, said the study results were in line with what he has observed for many years.

"It's not surprising at all," Dr. Landless said in a telephone interview. "To be frank with you, I have noted over the years that there's no question that the type of protein you take in is related to the kind of illnesses people suffer from," he added.

Dr. Landless said, "The relationship of red meat, and processed red meat, and cancer, has been shown to be a causal relationship. This is something which the world has not really wanted to pay as much attention to. We have to look at having evidence-based science, but there's been a lot of collateral data that people have been putting to one side. … Without any doubt, red meat is associated with an increase in coronary disease and cancer."

The health ministries expert said church members, who've long had the benefit of Ellen White's counsel on the subject, had a head start on today's scientific researchers.

"When we as Seventh-day Adventists look back on what we have known since 1863, we have had a tremendous advantage at looking at what (other) people are only finding out now," Dr. Landless said. And, he added, the message to all — Adventists and the public alike — is clear: "If one wants to have the best quality of life, move to a plant-based diet, use dairy and, if needed, fish and poultry in small amounts. Avoid red flesh meat entirely."

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