How should you eat to live longer? What a new study reveals

(CNN) — It is possible to reduce the risk of premature death for any reason by almost 20% simply by eating more foods ––the ones you choose–– from four healthy eating patterns, according to a new study.

People who were most consistent in any of the healthy eating patterns — which focus on consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes — were also less likely to die from cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases.

The results of the study, which was published Monday in the academic journal JAMA Internal Medicineshow that “there is more than one way to eat well and get the health benefits that come with it,” says Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who was not involved in the study.

Study co-author Dr. Frank Hu said people often get bored with just one way of eating, “so that’s good news. It means we have a lot of flexibility in creating our own healthy eating patterns, which can be adapted to food preferences, health states and cultures of each person”.

“For example, if you’re on a healthy Mediterranean diet and after a few months you want to try something different, you can switch to a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet or a semi-vegetarian diet,” Hu explains. and Epidemiology and director of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “Or you can follow the US Dietary Guidelines and create your own plate of healthy food.”

A long-term study

The study followed the dietary habits of 75,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 44,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for 36 years. None of the men and women had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, and few were smokers. All completed questionnaires about their diet every four years.

“This is one of the largest and longest cohort studies to examine recommended dietary patterns and the long-term risk of premature death and death from serious illness,” Hu says.

Hu and his team scored the participants on how well they followed four healthy eating styles that are in line with current US dietary guidelines.

One of them is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish and a large amount of olive oil, Hu explained. “This dietary pattern emphasizes healthy fats, especially monounsaturated fats, in addition to plant-based foods and moderate alcohol consumption,” he explained.

The next one is called the healthy plant diet, which also focuses on eating more plant products, but gives negative points to all animal products and any type of alcohol.

“It even advises against relatively healthy options, such as fish or some dairy products,” Hu explains, adding that the eating plan discourages unhealthy plant foods, such as potato products.

“So you can imagine that vegetarians are probably on the higher end of this diet score,” he said, “and people who eat a lot of animal products or highly processed carbohydrates would be on the lower end of this score.” punctuation”.

The Healthy Eating Index looks at whether people follow the basic US nutritional guidelines, which emphasize healthy plant-based foods, disapprove of red and processed meat, and discourage added sugar, unhealthy fats, and alcohol Hu explained.

The Alternate Healthy Eating Index was developed at Harvard, Hu explained, and uses the “best available evidence” to include the foods and nutrients most closely associated with reduced risk of chronic disease.

“We explicitly included nuts, seeds, whole grains, and lower consumption of red and processed meats and sugary drinks,” he added. “Moderate consumption of alcohol is allowed.”

Results by disease

After scoring each person’s eating pattern, participants were divided into five groups, or quintiles, from highest to lowest adherence to one or more of the eating patterns.

“The highest quintile of diet quality, compared with the lowest, was associated with an approximate 20% reduction in all-cause mortality,” says Katz, president and founder of the nonprofit organization True Health. Initiative, a global coalition of experts dedicated to science-based lifestyle medicine.

The study also found reductions in the risk of death from certain chronic diseases if people improved their diet over time, Hu said.

Participants who improved the health of their diet by 25% could reduce their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 6% to 13% and of dying from cancer by 7% to 18%, he said. The risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, was reduced by up to 7%.

“The reduction in mortality from respiratory diseases was actually much greater, reducing the risk by 35% to 46%,” Hu said.

The study was based on participants’ self-reports of their food preferences and therefore only showed an association, not a direct cause and effect, between dietary habits and health outcomes. Still, the fact that the study asked about diet every four years for such a long period added weight to the results, according to Hu.

What is the conclusion of this large long-term study?

“It is never too late to adopt healthy eating patterns, and the benefits of following a healthy diet can be substantial in terms of reducing overall premature deaths and various causes of premature death,” Hu said.

“People also have a lot of flexibility in creating their own healthy dietary pattern. But the common principles — eating more plant foods and fewer servings of red meat, processed meats, added sugars and sodium — should be included no matter what kind of diet you want. to create”.

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