various foods high in plant based protein

Is Plant Protein a Key to Healthy Aging for Women?

Yes, according to research and an expert in women’s health and lifestyle

March 8, 2024

A recent major study of women showed that protein—particularly protein from plant food—is a key ingredient in healthy aging in women. More than 45,000 women participated in the study, and the results back up earlier research that emphasizes the benefits of plant protein.

In other words, you should really think about eating more plant protein.

“Every day, we learn more about the importance of diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors on women’s health. Regularly eating healthy, protein-rich foods, especially plants, is part of the path to healthy aging,” says Ka Kahe, MD, ScD. Kahe is a nutritional and environmental epidemiologist who studies the impact of lifestyle, dietary, and environmental factors on women’s health. “Modifiable risk factors, like what we eat and how we live, are crucial for disease prevention and overall health.”

We spoke to him about protein, aging, women’s health, and the latest research.

What is protein?

Protein is in every cell in the human body (skin, hair, nails, muscle, bone, blood, internal organs, etc). It’s necessary for good health, development, and functions like seeing, antibody and hormone production, immune response, and hydration.

Humans get protein from plant and animal food. Protein provides energy, or calories, for the body: every gram of protein provides four calories.

What is plant-based protein?

Any protein found in plants only—not animals or fish—is plant protein.

Beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds top the list because of how much protein they contain (lots). Vegetables, including mushrooms, kale, broccoli, and asparagus, contain protein too. And so does barley, chia, millet, quinoa, spelt, and wheat.

Whole foods are best for health, but you can also find plant-based protein in processed foods like tofu and tempeh, which are made from soybeans, and seitan, which is made from wheat gluten. Learn more about plant-based diets.

Is there a relationship between protein and healthy aging?


Harvard researchers have recently reported that dietary protein intake—especially plant protein—is associated with healthy aging among midlife female nurses. At Columbia, we’ve found that vegetable protein intake is related to lower odds of obesity, and consuming soy helps lower blood pressure.

Since obesity and hypertension are linked to cognitive aging, our results are consistent with the recent protein intake study, and together, these studies support that eating protein is linked to healthy aging.

Is this different for women and men?

There is not enough research to answer that question.

What’s a good daily protein intake for women who want to be healthy as they age? 

Generally speaking, women should follow the USDA’s Daily Recommendation on protein intake. For some women, there may be benefits to increasing daily protein intake.

Either way, determining the best diet for each person should always be the goal, and people who have health conditions should consult a clinical dietician before making dietary changes.

Is there a best age to start eating more protein to age healthily?

In addition to a regular, healthy diet, people should speak to their doctor or dietician about what is best for them.

What’s the best protein to eat? 

Research shows us more attention should be paid to plant-based protein. Regularly eating healthier, protein-rich foods is better than focusing on specific amounts of daily protein.

What do people ask you about women and healthy aging?

What do people who live past 100 years old eat?

Many women ask me if they should eat a specific food that a centenarian eats for healthy aging. I emphasize that multiple factors, such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment, determine human health.

A healthy diet is more important than a single nutrient or food. Keep in mind that it’s just one component of a healthy lifestyle. The best strategy for healthy aging is to select a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, normal body weight, and no smoking.


Ka Kahe, MD, ScD, is a nutritional and environmental epidemiologist at CUIMC.