Here’s how to eat to live longer, according to a new study


According to a new study, you can reduce your risk of premature death from any reason by up to 20%, simply by eating more foods from your choice of four healthy eating habits.

People who followed one of the healthy eating patterns more closely – all of which share the goal of consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes – were also less likely to die from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases.

The study results, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, show “there is more than one way to eat well and reap the health benefits,” said Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who was not involved in the study. to study.

People often get bored with only one way of eating, said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu, “so that’s good news.” This means that we have a lot of flexibility to create our own healthy eating habits which can be tailored to individual dietary preferences, health conditions and cultures.

“For example, if you eat healthy Mediterranean, and after a few months you want to try something different, you can switch to a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet or you can switch to a semi-vegetarian diet,” said said Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “Or you can follow US dietary guidelines and create your own healthy plate.”

The study tracked the eating habits of 75,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 44,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study over 36 years. None of the men and women had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, and few were smokers. All completed dietary questionnaires 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 major diseases,” Hu said.

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

One is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish and plenty of olive oil, Hu said. “This diet emphasizes healthy fats, especially monounsaturated fats, in addition to plant-based foods and moderate alcohol,” he says.

The next one is called the healthy plant-based diet, which also focuses on the consumption of plant products but gives negative points for all animal products and all alcohol.

“It discourages even relatively healthy options, like fish or some dairy products,” Hu said, adding that the diet frowns on unhealthy plant-based foods such as potato products.

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

The Healthy Eating Index tracks whether people are following basic U.S. nutritional guidelines, which emphasize healthy plant-based foods, frown on red and processed meat, and discourage consumption of added sugar, unhealthy fats, and alcohol , Hu said.

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

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

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

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

The study also found reductions in the risk of death from certain chronic diseases if people improved their diets 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 dying from cancer by 7% to 18%, he said. . There was a 7% reduction in the risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.

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

The study relied on participants’ self-reports of 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 diets every four years over such a long period added weight to the findings, Hu said.

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

“It’s never too late to adopt healthy eating habits, and the benefits of healthy eating can be substantial in terms of reducing the total number of premature deaths and the various causes of premature death,” Hu said.

“People also have a lot of flexibility to create their own healthy diet. But the common principles — eating more plant-based foods and fewer servings of red meat, processed meats, added sugar and sodium — should be there no matter what kind of diet you want to create.

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