According to studies, choosing legumes over red meat can help boost a person’s life expectancy by more than a decade.
A team from the University of Bergen in Norway discovered in a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine that long-term shifts from a conventional Western diet to “optimizing diets” could “translate into more than a decade for young adults.”
The benefits would be reduced, but still significant, for those who are older.
Even a feasibility approach diet, regarded as the “middle ground” between an ideal and normal Western diet, increased life expectancy by 7% or more for both sexes across age groups.
The researchers used data from the 2019 Global Burden of Disease study and “life table methodology” to calculate how life expectancy changed over time as a result of dietary changes such as consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, refined grains, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
A woman in the United States who began eating healthily at the age of 20 may extend her life by more than a decade, while a male could extend his by 13 years.
Eating more legumes, whole grains, and nuts and less red and processed meat would result in the greatest increases in life expectancy.
At the age of 60, switching to an optimal diet would boost life expectancy by eight years for women and nearly nine years for men.
People over the age of 80 would gain 3.4 years, while switching from a traditional to a feasible diet would boost life expectancy by 6.2 years for 20-year-old women in the United States and 7.3 years for men.
“A sustained dietary change may give substantial health gains for people of all ages both for optimized and feasible changes. Gains are predicted to be larger the earlier the dietary changes are initiated in life,” the researchers said, noting that their Food4HealthyLife calculator could be a useful tool for others to better understand the health impact of dietary choices.
Dietary risk factors are expected to cause 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years annually over the world, according to the study.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Jan. 7 that 12.3% of adults reached fruit criteria and 10% met vegetable recommendations.
“The prevalence of meeting fruit intake recommendations was highest among Hispanic adults and lowest among males; meeting vegetable intake recommendations was highest among adults aged ≥51 years and lowest among those living below or close to the poverty level (income to poverty ratio,” it said.
Adults should eat 1.5 to 2 cup equivalents of fruits and 2-3 cup equivalents of veggies each day.
“A healthy diet supports healthy immune function and helps to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some cancers; having some of these conditions can predispose persons to more severe illness and death from COVID-19,” the CDC report warned.
According to the National Cancer Institute, red meat consumption is linked to an elevated risk of some cancers.
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