Striving to consume less meat and more roasted veggies? A new study suggests favoring vegetables over red meat could be beneficial toward your overall health. According to new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a diet rich in meat could spell an early death, specifically for men. And it may take even less meat than you’d expect to increase your risk of an early demise.
Throughout the study, a group of Finnish scientists reviewed health and dietary data from 2,641 men ages 42 to 60 that were a part of the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. The study tracked those Finnish men for an average of 22 years as part of a research project to try and figure out why this particular population ranks among the highest for rates of heart disease in Europe. Over the course of the study, almost half the participants—1,225 in total—died.
While it’s clear there were many factors that could have contributed to some of the study participant’s deaths, the researchers found that men who ate more than a half pound of meat a day were 23-percent more likely to die over the course of those two decades. (That equates to eating two quarter pounders, or one 16-ounce steak a day.)
As The New York Times explained, the higher intake of protein in the meat was not significantly associated with an increased risk for premature death. Furthermore, the consumption of the proteins in fish, eggs, dairy, and plants did not affect the mortality rate of study participants. Instead, it was all about the ratio of meat protein to plant protein.
“Higher ratio of animal to plant protein in diet and higher meat intake were associated with increased mortality risk,” the authors wrote in their conclusion. “Higher total protein intake appeared to be associated with mortality mainly among those with a predisposing disease.”
That’s not to say you should never eat meat again. Instead, the authors believe their work should be used to steer you toward a more balanced diet that incorporates protein from plants as well.
“It isn’t necessary to completely stop eating meat,” the study’s senior author, Jyrki K. Virtanen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland, shared with The New York Times. “But keeping it in moderation is important. Some people eat meat every day, and that’s not a good idea.”
Luckily, those who don’t want to give up burgers can still get their fix. Sort of. A myriad of vegetable-based “burgers” have come on the market to satisfy human meat cravings without having to kill a single cow in the process. Perhaps most notable of them all is the Impossible Burger.
Though the burger, made of vegetables, micronutrients, wheat, and other ingredients, doesn’t quite taste exactly like the real thing, it was good enough to get on Burger King’s permanent nation-wide menu. And swapping out a few beef-based burgers a week for those of the veggie variety can not only do wonders for your health and longevity, but they can do wonders for the planet’s too.
In 2018, according to findings published in the journal Science, cutting meat and dairy consumption could be one of the single most effective ways to reduce human impact on the environment. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” lead study researcher Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford told The Guardian. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”
So go ahead and swap meat-based protein for vegetables in your recipes this week, or treat yourself to dinner out with an Impossible Burger for meatless Monday. Your extra years—not to mention the planet—will thank you.