Making a Healthy Choice for You and the Planet

by Dr. Marc Futernick, MD, FACEP
August 2020

A new study published in JAMA on July 13, 2020 – Association Between Plant and Animal Protein Intake and Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality – looks at the impact of increasing dietary plant protein across a wide variety of outcomes. The study followed 400,000 people in the US over 16 years and compared them based on the ratio of plant vs animal protein in their diet. The results are profound although, as a physician, not surprising to me.

Increasing the proportion of plant protein consumed by 3% led to a 10% decrease in relative overall mortality. This impact was doubled when plant protein replaced egg protein, and it increased by 50% when replacing red meat. The findings were significant for both men and women, across nearly every disease they tracked. Increasing the plant protein ratio reduced death, heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma/COPD, and even infection. They also examined the findings across multiple subgroups and found the same results in diabetics, smokers, and in people who self-reported eating more fruits or taking vitamins regularly.

One thing I love about this study is that it didn’t examine vegetarians, but rather it simply compared the ratios among a general population. The overall balance of plant to animal protein was 40% plant to 60% animal, which matches the known average American diet, but each 3% shift of that balance in the direction of plant protein had significant health impacts, across all subgroups and disease entities.

Although I initially shifted my own dietary balance when I learned about the destructive environmental impacts of the meat industry, I have read so much information since about the health impacts that I feel compelled to advocate more widely for the health benefits. The more we study this topic, the clearer it becomes that eating meat, eggs, and dairy is simply not good for your health. This study confirms that it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Shifting your balance has significant impact. We have great plant-based options. Each individual decision you make matters, and each meal is an opportunity to make a healthy choice, both for you and for the planet.


Dr. Marc Futernick is a practicing emergency physician at California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, and is a member of the Consortium Steering Committee.