A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Bergen explored how consumers’ diets may impact how long they live. According to their findings, swapping a traditional Western diet – which includes processed foods and red meat – for more whole grains and nuts may add 10 years to consumers’ life expectancy.
“Research until now has shown health benefits associated with separate food groups or specific diet patterns but given limited information on the health impact of other diet changes,” said researcher Lars Fadnes. “Our modeling methodology has bridged this gap.”
Making long-term healthy choices
The researchers analyzed data from the Global Burden of Diseases study and other previous studies that focused on diet and longevity to better understand the relationship between the two.
The team was primarily interested in seeing how life expectancy changed based on consumers’ intake of things like fruits and vegetables, fish, eggs, red meat, whole grains, processed foods, dairy products, and sugar-sweetened beverages. They created a model, the Food4HealthyLife Calculator, to estimate how diet choices impact longevity.
The researchers learned that moving away from a traditional Western diet and opting for healthier foods was beneficial for consumers’ life expectancy. The work showed that the positive impacts on longevity were even more significant for younger consumers who switched their diets than older consumers.
For example, young women who ate healthier improved their life expectancy by nearly 11 years, while young men increased their life expectancy with a healthy diet by 13 years. For consumers over the age of 60, diet changes added nearly nine years onto men’s lives and eight years onto women’s lives, respectively. By the time consumers reached 80, a healthy diet was linked with adding more than three years onto life expectancy.
The team also narrowed down the foods that were most beneficial in terms of longevity and which were the most detrimental to a longer life. Red meat and processed meat were two of the foods to avoid for life expectancy, while nuts, legumes, and whole grains were all linked with the greatest increases in life expectancy.
The researchers hope these findings prove to be useful for consumers because their dietary choices can have long-term impacts on their health and wellness.
“Understanding the relative health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains,” the researchers wrote. “The Food4HealthyLife calculator could be a useful tool for clinicians, policymakers, and lay-people to understand the health impact of dietary choices.”