New study: Plant-based diet can extend life

Abstract: “Sustained dietary changes are likely to yield substantial health benefits for people of all ages, both ‘optimal’ and ‘workable’ diets; at the same time, the earlier in life dietary changes are expected to begin, the greater the benefit bigger.”

Keywords: Plant, Diet

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A recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that eating a plant-based diet, especially early in life, was associated with extending an individual’s lifespan by up to 10 years. With an estimated 11 million deaths each year due to dietary risk factors, and 255 million people dying due to dietary causes that affect life expectancy, researchers in Norway hope to better understand how sustainable dietary differences affect life expectancy.

Using the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) — a collection of data that attributes disease mortality to a variety of individual foods — the researchers created a computer model to determine how well people eating a typical Western diet compare to the “optimal diet.” Differences in life expectancy. The researchers defined the latter as “a substantially higher intake of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, and vegetables than a typical diet, while also including small amounts of nuts, and reducing red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined Cereal Intake”.

The researchers found that starting at age 20, a consistent intake of an optimal diet increased life expectancy by 10.7 years for American women and 13 years for men. Later in life, switching to an optimal diet also had a positive impact on life expectancy, adding 8 and 8.8 years of life for women and men over 60, respectively. Even at age 80, switching to an optimal diet can increase life expectancy by an average of 3.4 years. The Western and Optimal Diets were compared to the “feasibility” diet, which is characterized by something in between. The researchers found that young adults who switched to this diet also increased their life expectancy by 7 percent or more.

The biggest reason for the increase in life expectancy is eating more beans, whole grains and nuts, and less red and processed meat, the study said. Although the researchers focused on the United States, the results for China and Europe in their study were also very similar.

In their conclusion, the study authors write:

Sustained dietary changes are likely to yield substantial health benefits for people of all ages, both ‘optimal’ and ‘workable’ diets; at the same time, the earlier in life dietary changes are expected to begin, the greater the benefit bigger.

In addition to publishing their study, the researchers created a tool called TheHealthy4Life Calculator to help health professionals, policymakers and the public better understand the impact of diet on life expectancy.

Other Research Supports Plant-Based Diets for Longevity.

The new study supports earlier research in the areas of diet and life expectancy. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health also used GBD to develop the Healthy Nutrition Index (HENI), which quantifies the marginal health effects of more than 5,800 foods—measured in minutes of healthy life lost or gained , the findings ranged from a loss of 74 minutes to an increase of 80 minutes. This way of looking at the impact of food on life expectancy yielded similar results to the Norwegian study – fruits, cooked grains, ready-to-eat cereals and non-starchy mixed vegetables had the greatest gains, while those with processed meats (e.g. hot dogs, burgers, breakfast sandwiches, etc.) and sugar-sweetened beverages) were associated with reduced life expectancy.

Additionally, diets high in animal products have been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, the leading cause of death in the world. A study published last year in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition examined the long-term effects of following a ketogenic diet. Typically, ketogenic diets provide short-term benefits for weight loss, but long-term followers of animal-product-heavy diets (severely restricting carbohydrate intake) expose themselves to higher rates of heart disease, LDL cholesterol build-up, Risk of kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer.

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