Foods high in protein vary so greatly in their composition that some have been linked to early death (red meat) and some to prolonged life (fish). A recent study on health effects of protein is unique because it didn’t research overconsumption of red meat in North America, but instead eating protein in the East. Few studies from non-Western countries have considered the association between protein sources and disease-related death because their cultural diets are so different.
A January 2017 study from Iran examined the eating habits of 42,403 men and women for 11 years. Of the 3,291 deaths that happened during follow-up years (2004-2015), the researchers found that eating eggs was most associated with lower risk of death from all diseases. High fish consumption reduced the risk of getting all types of cancer, and especially dying from gastrointestinal cancer. High legume (beans, lentils) consumption was also associated with fewer cancers, especially gastrointestinal cancer.
However, there did not seem to be significant associations between total red meat and poultry intake and increased death from any diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer in this study.
[NOTE: Portion sizes were not examined as much as frequency of eating types of protein. Therefore it may be because large amounts of animal protein are not often eaten in one meal in Eastern countries – like a 12-ounce steak is in the West – but instead it is combined with other foods such as rice or vegetables.] Farvid MS, Malekshah AF, Pourshams A, et al., “Dietary Protein Sources and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality”, The Golestan Cohort Study in Iran., Am J Prev Med. 2017 Feb;52(2):237-248. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2016.10.041.