Switching to a plant-based diet can add 10 years to your life, study finds

Consumption of a plant-based diet, particularly in early life, has been associated with extending an individual’s life by up to 10 years, according to a study published this week in the journal PLOS Medicine. Norwegian researchers set out to better understand how long-lasting dietary differences affect life expectancy, given that dietary risk factors are estimated to cause 11 million deaths and 255 million life-adjusted life years. disability each year.

Using the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study – a collection of data attributing disease mortality to a variety of individual foods – researchers created a computer model to determine differences in life expectancy among people consuming a typical western diet versus an “optimal food”. diet. The researchers defined the latter as a diet that has “significantly higher intake than a typical diet of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, vegetables, and included a handful of nuts, while reducing red and processed meats, sugary drinks and refined grains.”

Researchers have found that sustained optimal nutrition from age 20 increases life expectancy by 10.7 years for women in the United States and 13 years for men. Later in life, switching to optimal diets had positive effects on life expectancy, with women and men over 60 adding eight and 8.8 years to life, respectively. Even at age 80, switching to an optimal diet increased life expectancy by an average of 3.4 years. The Western diet and the optimal diets were compared to a “feasibility” diet characterized as a midpoint between the two. Researchers found that young people who adopted this diet also improved their life expectancy by 7% or more.

The greatest gains in life expectancy were made by eating more legumes, whole grains and nuts, and less red meat and processed meat. While the researchers focused on the United States, their results for China and Europe were quite similar. “Sustained dietary change can provide substantial health gains for people of all ages, both for optimized and achievable changes,” the study authors wrote in their conclusion. “Gains are expected to be greater the earlier dietary changes are initiated in life.”

In addition to publishing their study, the researchers created a tool, TheHealthy4Life Calculator, to help healthcare professionals, policy makers and the general public better understand the effects of diet on life expectancy.

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Can a plant-based diet help you live longer?

This new study builds on previous research in the area of ​​diet and life expectancy. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health also used GBD to develop the Health Nutrient Index (HENI), an index that quantifies marginal health effects – in minutes of life healthy lost or gained – from over 5,800 foods. , with results ranging from 74 minutes lost to 80 minutes gained. This way of looking at the effects of diet on life expectancy produced results similar to those of the Norwegian study. While fruits, cooked grains, ready-to-eat cereals and non-starchy mixed vegetables led to the greatest gains, meals made with processed meats such as hot dogs, hamburgers, breakfast sandwiches breakfast, as well as sugary drinks, have been linked to the biggest gains. reduction in lifespan.

Additionally, a diet high in animal products has been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. A study published last year in the scientific journal Nutrition Frontiers looked at the long-term effects of following a keto diet. Generally, the keto diet offers the short-term benefit of weight loss, but long-term followers of the diet high in animal products (which severely restrict carbohydrate intake) are at higher risk. to develop heart disease, accumulation of LDL cholesterol, kidney failure. , Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer.

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Last years US news and world report the annual food rankings are consistent with this research. The report is compiled by nutrition experts who rate 40 diets at various levels, including weight loss, nutrition, safety, and their ability to prevent and manage heart disease and diabetes. In the Best Diets for Healthy Eating category, keto ranked lowest and very close to the bottom of the list in all other categories except Best Diets for Rapid Weight Loss. How did the experts rank the vegan diet? Along with ranking it #17 overall, the vegan diet received top scores in Best Diets for Diabetes (#2) and Best Diets for Heart Health (#4).

To learn more about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, read:

First-of-its-kind study links vegan meat to better gut health
5 heart health tips from herbal medicine professionals
Plant-based diet beats Mediterranean for weight loss, study finds

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