By Laura Brown,
Everyone wants to live longer. And we’re often told that the key to doing this is making healthier lifestyle choices, such as exercising, avoiding smoking and not drinking too much alcohol. Studies have also shown that diet can increase lifespan.
A new study has found that eating healthier could extend lifespan by six to seven years in middle-aged age adults, and in young adults, could increase lifespan by about ten years.
The researchers brought together data from many studies that looked at diet and longevity, alongside data from the Global Burden of Disease study, which provides a summary of population health from many countries. Combining this data, the authors were then able to estimate how life expectancy varied with continuous changes in intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, refined grains, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, dairy, red meat, processed meat and sugary drinks.
The authors were then able to produce an optimal diet for longevity, which they then compared with the typical western diet – which mostly contains high amounts of processed foods, red meat, high-fat dairy products, high-sugar foods, pre-packed foods and low fruit and vegetable intake. According to their research, an optimal diet included more legumes (beans, peas and lentils), whole grains (oats, barley and brown rice) and nuts, and less red and processed meat.
The researchers found that eating an optimal diet from age 20 would increase life expectancy by more than a decade for women and men from the US, China and Europe. They also found that changing from a western diet to the optimal diet at age 60 would increase life expectancy by eight years. For 80-year-olds, life expectancy could increase by almost three and a half years.
But given it isn’t always possible for people to completely change their diet, the researchers also calculated what would happen if people changed from a western diet to a diet that was halfway between the optimal diet and the typical western diet. They found that even this kind of diet – which they called a “feasibility approach diet” – could still increase life expectancy for 20-year-olds by just over six years for women and just over seven years for men.