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A recent study published in PLOS Medicine estimates that you could add more than a decade to your life expectancy by making simple changes to the typical Western diet, which is often laden with pre-packaged foods, refined grains, red and processed meats, fried foods and tons of sugar.
The study pulled data from several other recent meta-analyses, each of which gather data from various studies, to summarize the effects that different food types may have on life expectancy. The overall list included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, refined grains, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, milk/dairy, red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Life expectancy changes for two different approaches were estimated based on the data: an optimal approach and a feasible approach. The optimal approach, as you may have guessed, would theoretically add the most time to a person’s lifespan.
Researchers found that key changes when it comes to hitting optimal amounts include incorporating more legumes, whole grains and nuts into your diet, as well as eating less red and processed meat, according to the study. Adding more fruits, vegetables and fish also had a positive impact, but the typical Western diet is closer to ideal amounts of these foods, so making the aforementioned changes could be more effective.
Making and maintaining the change to an optimized diet as a young adult, say 20 years old, is estimated to add up to nearly 11 years later in life for women. However, older adults can reap similar benefits if they make and sustain these changes, with life expectancy potentially increasing up to 8 years if changed start at 60 and 3.4 years for women in their 80s. Switching to the feasible approach could add up to 6.2 years for women who start in their 20s.
Here’s the full breakdown of the optimal and feasible approaches:Food Group Optimal Diet Daily Amount Feasible Diet Daily Amount Whole Grains (fresh weight) 225 grams 137.5 grams Vegetables 400 grams 325 grams Fruits 400 grams 300 grams Nuts 25 grams 12.5 grams Legumes 200 grams 100 grams Fish 200 grams 100 grams Eggs 25 grams 37.5 grams Milk/dairy 200 grams 250 grams Refined grains 50 grams 100 grams Red Meat 0 grams 50 grams Processed Meat 0 grams 25 grams White Meat 50 grams 62.5 grams Sugar-sweetened Beverages 0 grams 250 grams Added plant oils 25 grams 25 grams
“Understanding the relative health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains,” study authors wrote.
The study authors took their findings and created a tool called the Food4HealthyLife calculator that you can use to plug in your nutrition choices to see the estimated benefits. Of course, the study only provides estimates based on available data, so take your own estimate with that in mind.
“Research until now have shown health benefits associated with separate food group or specific diet patterns but given limited information on the health impact of other diet changes,” study author Lars Fadnes said in a statement. “Our modeling methodology has bridged this gap.”
Here are some ways to incorporate these food groups into your day-to-day nutrition.
Using a food processor or handheld blender, purée together:
Cook buckwheat according to package directions; set aside in large bowl to cool slightly. While buckwheat cooks, combine chicken, red pepper, broccoli and all remaining ingredients in large bowl and mix until well-combined; stir in buckwheat. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Add warm water by the tablespoon for a creamier texture.