We all know eating habits play a huge role in our overall health, but a 2021 study looking at longevity broke down just how many minutes certain foods can add to our life — yes, down to the minute — and how many others take away.
Researchers from the University of Michigan published findings in the journal Nature after evaluating more than 5,800 types of food for their impact on both our lifespans and the environment.
Although the study didn’t list every single food they tested, you might be surprised by some of the ones they did share. A classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for instance, will apparently give us 33 extra minutes — but a hot dog subtracts 36 minutes. (The authors didn’t specify the type of bread for either, but we’d have to guess enriched white bread is another minute-sapper.) On the higher and lower ends of the spectrum, they claim corned beef will set us back 71 minutes while sardines add 82 minutes.
Researchers broke everything down into green, red, and amber zones: Green zone foods increase our longevity with low repercussions for the environment, red zone foods do the opposite, and amber zone foods fall somewhere in the middle.
They describe the green zone as mostly consisting of nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and some seafood. Most poultry, dairy, egg-based foods, cooked grains, and vegetables produced in greenhouses are in the amber zone. The red zone contains processed meat, beef, pork, lamb, cheese-based foods, and some salmon dishes.
Salmon may be an unexpected red zone food, but this is due largely to the potential negative impact seafood farming has on our environment. Similarly, poultry and other amber zone foods vary based on how sustainably they are sourced. It’s important, however, to consider how chicken is prepared. For example, the study lists an 85 gram serving of chicken wings as taking away 3.3 minutes because of the additional sodium and trans fatty acids.
The researchers made a point to say plant-based diets aren’t necessarily the best for either our health or the environment. “Although we find that plant-based foods generally perform better, there are considerable variations within both plant-based and animal-based foods,” study author Katerina Stylianou said in a press release.
The goal of the research was to encourage minor dietary tweaks that benefit both our longevity and the planet’s. The researchers recommend substituting 10 percent of our usual daily meat, processed foods, and shrimp consumption with veggies, nuts, legumes, and other seafood to add 48 minutes to our lifespan each day.
“The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear,” senior author Olivier Jolliet explained. “Our findings demonstrate that small targeted substitutions offer a feasible and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without requiring dramatic dietary shifts.”
Everyone is different, of course, so your choices will all depend on your own personal nutritional needs, but picking more green zone foods than red clearly makes a big difference. Who knew a simple PB&J could be so helpful for our health and environment?