Switching to a healthier diet in midlife could add more than eight years to your life.
Switching from a typically British unhealthy diet to following the NHS Eatwell Guide, for a 40-year-old woman, could help her live an estimated eight years and seven months longer.
That could mean living to 86 instead of 77.
For a 40-year-old man, the same change in diet could extend his life expectancy by nearly nine years, from dying at age 74 to nearly 83.
The most important dietary changes for living longer, according to the study of more than 460,000 people in the UK, is to cut back on sugary drinks and processed meats such as sausages and bacon, while eating more nuts and whole grains, such as those found throughout wheat bread and healthy cereals for breakfast.
The most important dietary changes for living longer, according to the study of more than 460,000 people in the UK, is to cut back on sugary drinks and processed meats such as sausages and bacon, while eating more nuts and whole grains, such as those found throughout wheat bread and healthy cereals for breakfast
The good news is that the results of the study show that it’s never too late to change your diet.
Even 70-year-olds who switched from unhealthy diets to strict adherence to the Eatwell Guide saw almost half the life expectancy of 40-year-olds.
A 70-year-old man could live four years longer, until the age of 86, while a 70-year-old woman would live another four years and five months longer, until her 88th birthday.
The Eatwell Guide advises people to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while consuming enough starch and protein-rich foods and reducing their intake of foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
Professor Lars Tadnes, who led the study from the University of Bergen, said: A healthy diet can prevent premature death from things like heart attacks and strokes.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
- Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables are counted;
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains;
- 30 grams of fiber a day: That’s the same as eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-grain crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and a large baked potato with skin on;
- Have some alternatives to dairy or milk products (such as soy drinks) by choosing options lower in fat and sugar;
- Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish each week, one of which should be fatty);
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume in small amounts;
- Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day;
- Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men per day.
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
People who change their diet as much as possible can help achieve goals to reduce these avoidable deaths.
A key priority is for people to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks such as cola and lemonade and processed meats such as bacon and sausages, as well as eating more whole grains and nuts.
The Eatwell Guide provides a framework to be more aware of what we consume.
The research, published in the journal Nature Food, looked at 467,354 people involved in the UK Biobank study, who filled out questionnaires about what they had eaten in the previous year.
These people were followed over time to see the age at which they died, which revealed the types of diet associated with longer life.
Those with unhealthy diets, who were in the fifth group of people most likely to die prematurely, tended to eat only small amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, white meat and milk or dairy products – or none at all .
But they consumed a significant amount of processed meats, sugary drinks, eggs and refined grains – processed rather than whole grains, such as those found in white bread, white rice and biscuits.
The biggest gains from following the Eatwell Guide were seen in people with this type of unhealthy diet.
But even those with an average diet could add more than a year to their lives by switching to the following Eatwell Guide recommendations at age 40.
The biggest gains in life expectancy were found for those who ate the healthiest diets among the study participants.
These people had a high intake of vegetables, nuts, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, milk and dairy products, while eating small amounts of processed meats and refined grains, and not too much red meat, eggs or sugary drinks.
If people with the unhealthiest diets switched to the healthiest diets, the results suggest, they could add more than a decade to their life expectancy at age 40, and more than five years if they made the change at age 70.
However, following the Eatwell guide is about 80 percent of the benefits of the healthiest diet, and the guide’s simple rules may be easier for people to follow in real life.
The study found that the benefits of a healthy diet were associated with life expectancy, even after taking into account other factors such as whether people smoked, how much alcohol they drank, their age and their level of exercise.
The average Briton has half a liter of sugary drinks a day, 50 grams of processed meat, which is the equivalent of six slices of bacon, and 100 grams of red meat, the evidence so far has shown.
An unhealthy diet is estimated to cause more than 75,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.
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