Adding a small amount of meat and dairy to your plant-based diet is associated with “good survival at older ages”, a new study reveals.

Latest research conducted at Tufts University has found that females who follow a plant-based diet are more likely to age healthily if they consume a small amount of animal protein.

Women who add a small amount of animal protein to their vegan diet are less at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognitive decline, according to the researchers.

This result strengthens findings of previous research studies which have suggested that animal protein can combat the development of chronic disease.

First author Dr Andres Ardisson Korat said: “Consuming protein in midlife was linked to promoting food health in older adulthood.

‘We also found that the source of protein matters. Getting the majority of your protein from plant sources at midlife, plus a small amount of animal protein, seems to be conducive to good health and good survival at older ages.”

Nearly 50,000 women were observed during the study. Participants were aged between 38 and 59 years old at the start of the experiment and they all had no pre-existing health conditions.

During the study, each participant filled in diet surveys every four years to outline their intake of proteins.

The researchers found that the participants who got most of their protein from plant sources, but also consumed some lean sources of animal protein as well, were less likely to develop 11 chronic diseases, such as stroke, cancer, kidney failure, Parkinson’s and cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, the participants with a high intake of animal protein and a low intake of plant protein were six per cent less likely to age healthily.

Dr Korat said: “Those who consumed greater amounts of animal protein tended to have more chronic disease and didn’t manage to obtain the improved physical function that we normally associate with eating protein.”

Lean animal proteins such as chicken and fish are beneficial for your iron levels and B12 content, as well as your energy levels, immune health and cognitive function, the study has reported.

Previous research has found that vegans are 50% more at risk of suffering an ankle injury or bone fracture compared to those who eat meat and animal products.

In addition, women who follow a vegetarian diet were more likely to break their hips in the future compared to those who eat meat.

Dr Korat concluded: “The data from the study tended to be very homogeneous in terms of demographic and socioeconomic composition, so it will be valuable to follow up with a study in cohorts that are more diverse. It’s a field that is still evolving.”

The study has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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