Seniors who eat fewer animal proteins, carbohydrates or fats for health reasons may delay unhealthy aging by adding more vegetable protein to their diet, new research from Spain suggests.

There’s a growing consensus that eating protein-rich foods helps older adults weather a variety of health challenges. In a recent study published in The American Journal of Medicine, participants who cut back on vegetable proteins showed more signs of unhealthy aging over an eight-year follow-up than participants who increased their vegetable protein intake by an equal amount. Similarly, fewer signs of unhealthy aging were found when participants substituted 1% of vegetable protein for an equal amount of carbohydrate, fat or animal protein, wrote lead author Esther Lopez-Garcia, Ph.D., Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. 

“[There is] a beneficial effect of higher intakes of total protein on muscle mass and strength, physical functioning, hip fracture and frailty,” Lopez-Garcia told Reuters. “If you eat more plant-based sources of proteins, you are also getting a lot of micronutrients and healthy fats, and fiber that help improve your health.” 

Sources of healthy plant protein include legumes, nuts and grains.