How do you feel about tofu?

Many people have complicated feelings toward plant sources for protein.  Snow-white and innocent with a sometimes quivery texture, tofu is often a target for people’s unkind words.

But what if I told you that eating more tofu is associated with a longer lifespan?

A large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at the diets of more than 130,000 people over 30 years and gathered information on the predominant sources of protein in the participants’ diet. The results? Those who ate more animal protein (especially red and processed meats) tended to die earlier. Those who ate more plant protein tended to live longer.

Put down the bacon and back away slowly.

The good news is that you can extend your healthy life without going 100 percent vegetarian. You can start by substituting plant protein for animal protein a few meals per week—the study showed that even those who gradually subbed in plant proteins for animal proteins did better than those with a diet high in animal protein.  

Going meatless one day a week is a good place to start. Meatless Monday, an initiative of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has recipes and inspiration to get you started.

Soy products such as tofu aren’t the only sources of plant protein out there. All beans contain protein, as do lentils. The trendy ancient grain quinoa is one of the only grains that is a complete protein. Nuts and nut butters are also good sources of protein.

In the study referenced above, there was a confounding factor, however, that might give hope to those who really love their steaks. In this study, it turned out that participants who ate a lot of red meat but were perfect in all other respects (i.e. they had no other lifestyle risk factors—they didn’t smoke, were not overweight or obese, used alcohol responsibly, and exercised often) did not incur a greater mortality risk than those who had a lower red meat intake.

For the rest of us non-perfect folks, getting more plant protein in our diets can help us live longer. And, because plant protein is more environmentally friendly, it can help the planet live longer, too.