The study reignites debate about the benefits and limitations of vegan diets / Getty

Every three per cent increase in calories from plant protein was found to reduce risk of death by 10 per cent

Vegans have substantially lower death rates than meat-eaters, a major study has found. 

The study has been published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal and reignites debate around increasingly popular vegan diets amid conflicting medical advice and evidence over their impact of proponents' health.

The research was undertaken by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, who monitored health and diet records of more than 130,000 people over the course of thirty years.

They found every three per cent increase in calories from plant protein was found to reduce risk of death by 10 per cent. The figure rises to 12 per cent for risk of dying from heart disease.

By contrast, raising the share of animal protein in one's diet by 10 per cent led to a two per cent higher risk of death from all causes. This increased to an eight per cent higher chance of dying from heart disease.

Substituting eggs for plant protein led to a 19 per cent reduction in death risk and eliminating unprocessed red meat saw a drop of 12 per cent.

As would be expected, the risk was found to be most pronounced among people who also engaged in other unhealthy activities, including having a history of smoking, drinking heavily or being obese.

However, caution should be exercised when interpreting the results, as other more complex social and environment factors could affect the results rather than being solely related to diet. For instance, vegans are more likely to be younger than the general population and therefore have much lower mortality rates. Similarly, vegans can be more likely to come from socially affluent backgrounds, which can also influence mortality risk.

Lead scientist Dr Mingyang Song said: ‘Overall, our findings support the importance of the sources of dietary protein for long-term health outcomes.

“While previous studies have primarily focused on the overall amount of protein intake - which is important - from a broad dietary perspective, the particular foods people consume to get protein are equally important.

“Our findings suggest 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.”

The number of people in Britain who follow a vegan diet has increased 360 per cent over the course of the last decade. Vegans eliminate all animal products from their diet, including meat, dairy and other products processed using animal products, such as some forms of sugar and wines.

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