Here’s how to eat to live longer, new study says
You can reduce your risk of an early death from any cause by almost 20% just by eating more foods from your choice of four healthy eating patterns, according to a new study.
People who more closely followed any of the healthy eating patterns—all of which share a focus on eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes—were also less likely to die from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases.
The results of the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, show that “there is more than one way to eat well and reap the health benefits,” said Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who was not involved in the. study.
People often get bored with one way of eating, said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu, “so this is good news. This means that we have a lot of flexibility in terms of creating our own healthy dietary patterns that can be adapted to individual food preferences, health conditions and cultures.
“For example, if you’re eating healthy Mediterranean and after a few months you want to try something different, you can switch to a DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet or you can switch to a semi-vegetarian diet,” he said. Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “Or you can follow the US Dietary Guidelines and create your own healthy food plate.”
The study followed the eating habits of 75,000 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 44,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for 36 years. None of the men or women had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, and few were smokers. All completed eating questionnaires every four years.
“This is one of the largest and longest cohort studies to examine recommended dietary patterns and the long-term risk of premature death and death from major diseases,” Hu said.
Hu and his team rated the participants on how closely they followed four healthy eating styles that are in sync with the current US Dietary Guidelines.
One is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish and a high amount of olive oil, Hu said. “This dietary pattern emphasizes healthy fats, especially unsaturated fats, in addition to plant-based foods and moderate alcohol,” he said.
The other is called the healthy plant-based diet, which also focuses on eating more plant-based products, but gives negative points for all animal products and any alcohol.
“It even discourages relatively healthy options, like fish or some dairy products,” Hu said, adding that the eating plan discourages unhealthy plant-based foods like potato products.
“So you can imagine that vegetarians are probably on the high end of this diet,” he said, “and people who eat a lot of animal products or very processed carbohydrate foods would be on the low end of that score. .”
The Healthy Eating Index tracks whether people follow the U.S.’s basic dietary guidelines, which emphasize healthy plant-based foods, frown on red and processed meat, and discourage consumption of added sugar, unhealthy fats and alcohol, it said. Huh.
The Alternative Healthy Eating Index was developed at Harvard, Hu said, and uses the “best available evidence” to include foods and nutrients most strongly associated with a lower risk of chronic disease.
“We have explicitly included nuts, seeds, whole grains and lower consumption of red and processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages,” he added. “Moderate consumption of alcohol is permitted.”
After each person’s eating pattern was assessed, participants were divided into five groups, or quintiles, from highest to lowest adherence to one or more eating patterns.
“The highest quintile of diet quality compared to the lowest was associated with approximately a 20% reduction in all-cause mortality,” said Katz, president and founder of the nonprofit True Health Initiative, a global coalition of dedicated experts. to be based on evidence. lifestyle medicine.
The study also found reduced risk of death from several chronic diseases if people improved their diet over time, Hu said.
Participants who improved the healthiness of their diet by 25% could reduce their risk of death from cardiovascular disease by a range of 6% to 13% and death from cancer by 7% to 18%, he said. There was up to a 7% reduction in the risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.
“The reduction in mortality from respiratory diseases was actually much greater, reducing the risk by 35% to 46%,” Hu said.
The study relied on participants’ self-reports of food preferences and therefore only showed an association, not direct cause and effect, between eating habits and health outcomes. However, the fact that the study asked about diets every four years over such a long period of time added weight to the findings, Hu said.
What is the result of this large, long-term study?
“It is never too late to adopt healthy eating patterns, and the benefits of eating a healthy diet can be substantial in terms of reducing total premature deaths and various causes of premature death,” Hu said.
“People also have a lot of flexibility in terms of creating their own healthy eating patterns. But the common principles – eating more plant-based foods and fewer portions of red meat, processed meat, added sugar and sodium – should be there no matter what kind of diet you want to create.”