Dropping meat, dairy and sugary foods and eating more pulses, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and nuts could increase your life expectancy by more than a decade, new research suggests.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, looked at the life expectancy of adults in the US, and said that making healthier dietary choices earlier in life could lead to substantial life expectancy gains.
They compared a typical Western diet to an ‘optimal diet’ rich in wholegrains, pulses, fruit, vegetables and nuts and found that eating a healthier diet from an early age could add up to 10.7 years of life for women and 13 years of life for men.
A typical Western diet, consumed by the average American, contains hardly any pulses (peas, beans and lentils), too few fruits and vegetables and too much red and processed meat, dairy, sugary drinks and refined grains.
The largest gains, they found, would be made by eating more pulses, wholegrains and nuts and less red and processed meat. Eating more pulses alone, they said, could add over two years of life expectancy for both men and women.
For older people, the gains would be smaller but still substantial. People in their sixties, they say, could add 8.4 years of life if they swapped red and processed meat for a more optimal diet and those in their 80s could still gain 3.4 years.
They concluded: “Understanding the relative health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains.”
Food is fundamental for health. The Global Burden of Disease Study, published in The Lancet, found that poor diets are estimated to cause 11 million deaths every year – that is one in five adult deaths.
Find out more about healthy eating here.