(CNN) — Changing what you eat could add up to 13 years to your life, according to a newly published study, especially if you start young.
The study created a model of what could happen to a man or woman’s longevity if they replaced a “typical Western diet” focused on red meat and processed foods with an “optimized diet” focused on eating less red and processed meat. and more fruits and vegetables. , legumes, whole grains and nuts.
If a woman started eating optimally in her 20s, she could increase her life expectancy by just over 10 years, according to the study. published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine. A man who eats a healthier diet from the age of 20 could add 13 years to his life.
Focusing on a healthier diet could also lengthen the lives of older adults, according to the study. From the age of 60, a woman could still increase her life expectancy by eight years. Men who start a healthier diet in their 60s can add nearly nine years to their lives.
A plant-based eating style could even benefit people in their 80s, according to the study: Men and women could gain about 3.5 years of extra life with dietary changes.
“The notion that improving diet quality would reduce the risk of chronic disease and premature death is long established, and it stands to reason that less chronic disease and premature death means longer life expectancy,” said Dr. David Katz, prevention specialist. and lifestyle medicine and nutrition, who were not involved in the study.
Katz, president and founder of the nonprofit organization True Health Initiativea global coalition of experts dedicated to evidence-based lifestyle medicine, has published research on how to use food as preventive medicine.
“What they define as an ‘optimal’ diet is not optimal at all; it’s much better than ‘typical,’” Katz said, adding that he felt the diet could be “further improved, conferring even greater benefits.”
“My impression is that their ‘greatly improved’ diet still allowed for substantial doses of meat and dairy,” Katz said, adding that when his team objectively rates the quality of the diet, “these elements are at fairly low levels in the Upper level”.
A longer life model
To model the future impact of changing a person’s diet, researchers in Norway used existing meta-analyses and data from the Global burden of disease studya database that tracks 286 causes of death, 369 illnesses and injuries, and 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories around the world.
The greatest gains in longevity were found by eating more legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils; whole grains, which are the entire seed of a plant; and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios, the study found.
It may seem simple to add more plants and grains to your diet, but statistics show that Americans are struggling to do so. TO new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that few Americans eat anywhere near their daily recommendations for fruits and vegetables.
The CDC study found that only 12% of adults consume 1½ to 2 cups of fruit daily, which is the amount recommended by the Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Only 10% of Americans eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables per day, including legumes.
About 50% of grain consumption should be whole grain, but more than 95% of Americans fall short of that goal. according to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americansinstead of eating processed grains, which have been ground to remove the grain, bran, and many nutrients, including fiber.
More than 50% of Americans don’t eat the recommended 5 grams (about a teaspoon) of nuts and seeds every day, according to the guidelines.
Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains contain more than just protein. They include healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant “phytochemicals” that have been associated with a lower risk of chronic disease.
Red and processed meats
Eating less red and processed meat, such as bacon, hot dogs and cured meats, was also linked to longer life.
That makes sense: Red and processed meats have been linked to significant health risks, including coronary heart disease and bowel cancer.
“There is substantial evidence that processed meat can cause bowel cancer, so much so that the World Health Organization has classified it as a carcinogen since 2015,” said Tim Key, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. from the UK Department of Health. told CNN in a previous interview.
Replacing red and processed meats with lean poultry, fish and plant proteins is one way to improve a diet quickly, experts say.
Plant proteins include soybeans (edamame), chickpeas, lentils and other legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like quinoa. Some vegetables, like broccoli, also contain higher levels of protein.
A 2020 study that followed more than 37,000 middle-aged Americans found that those who ate the most plant protein were 27% less likely to die from any cause and 29% less likely to die from coronary heart disease than people who ate the least amount of plant protein. protein.
“The benefit is more pronounced when red and processed meats are replaced with plant protein sources,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition at the University of T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Harvard, told CNN in a previous interview.
How to improve your diet
Tied for silver were the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and the flexitarian diet, which encourages being a vegetarian most of the time. All of these diets focus on meals packed with fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
A easy way to start eating mediterranean style is cooking a meal each week from beans, whole grains, and vegetables, using herbs and spices to add flavor. When one night a week is a doddle, add two and build from there.
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