Study Finds That a Plant-Based Diet Can Add 10 Years to Your Life

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A study published this week in the journal PLOS Medicine revealed that eating a plant-based diet, especially early in life, can extend one’s life by up to ten years. Given that dietary risk factors are predicted to cause 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years yearly, Norwegian researchers set out to better understand how sustained food disparities impact life expectancy.

The researchers created a computer model to determine the differences in life expectancy of people eating a typical Western diet versus an “optimal” diet using data from the Global Burden of Disease study (GBD), which is a collection of data that assigns disease mortality to a variety of individual foods. The latter is characterized as a diet that includes “substantially higher intake than a typical diet of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, vegetables, and included a handful of nuts, while reducing red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains.” 

A maintained ideal diet from the age of 20 boosts life expectancy by 10.7 years for women and 13 years for men in the United States, according to researchers. Switching to the ideal diet later in life increased life expectancy by eight and eight and a half years, respectively, for females and males over 60. Even at the age of 80, adopting a healthy diet boosted life expectancy by 3.4 years on average. The Western and optimum diets were compared to a “feasibility” diet, which is defined as a compromise between the two. Researchers discovered that switching to this diet increased young people’s life expectancy by 7% or more.

Eating a more plant-based diet by consuming legumes, whole grains, and nuts and less red and processed meat resulted with the greatest increases in life expectancy. While the study focused on the United States, the findings for China and Europe were quite comparable. The study authors concluded, “A sustained dietary change may give substantial health gains for people of all ages both for optimized and feasible changes… Gains are predicted to be larger the earlier the dietary changes are initiated in life.”

In addition to publishing their findings, the researchers developed TheHealthy4Life calculator to aid health professionals, policymakers, and the general public in better understanding the implications of nutrition on lifespan.

Will Eating Plant-Based Extend Your Lifespan?

This new study backs up earlier findings in the realm of nutrition and longevity. Researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health utilized GBD to create the Health Nutritional Index (HENI), which measures the marginal health impacts of more than 5,800 meals in minutes of healthy life lost or gained, with results ranging from 74 minutes lost to 80 minutes gained. The results of this approach to studying the effects of diet on life expectancy were comparable to those of the Norway research. While fruits, cooked grains, ready-to-eat cereals, and non-starchy mixed vegetables provided the most benefits, meals including processed meats like hot dogs, burgers, and breakfast sandwiches, as well as sugary drinks, were connected to the highest decrease in longevity.

A diet heavy in animal products has also been linked to an increased risk of ailments including heart disease, which is the world’s leading cause of mortality. The long-term implications of adopting a keto diet were investigated in a research published last year in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition. The keto diet often results in weight reduction in the short term, but long-term users of the animal-product-heavy diet (which severely restricts carbohydrate consumption) are at a higher risk of heart disease, LDL cholesterol accumulation, renal failure, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The annual diet rankings published by US News and World Report last year backed up these findings. Nutrition experts evaluated 40 diets on a variety of factors, including weight reduction, nutrition, safety, and the capacity to prevent and treat heart disease and diabetes. Keto came in last in the Best Diets for Healthy Eating category, and was towards the bottom of the list in every other area except Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets. What were the experts’ opinions on the vegan diet? In addition to being ranked No. 17 overall, the vegan diet was ranked No. 2 in Best Diabetes Diets and No. 2 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets (No. 4).



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