Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that eating healthy foods can add years to your life. It certainly makes you feel better in the short term; you’ll have more energy throughout the day and fewer digestion problems. But in the long term, is it really doing anything, or is it all up to genetics? Recent research says yes, it really is doing something. A scientific article showed that a diet rich in fish, beans, whole grains, and nuts may increase your life expectancy by eight years.
The article was published in February 2022 in the journal PLOS Medicine. It confirms what we already know: The typical Western diet (high in red meat and processed foods) isn’t what’s best for our bodies. It also proves that healthy foods really can add high-quality years to your life.
Understanding the Data
Researchers from Norway wanted to provide strong evidence that a healthy diet can improve life expectancy. So, they collected a tremendous amount of data from meta-analyses. (A meta analysis is a way to combine data from many different studies. It helps scientists find common results and identify trends.) They used these analyses to research the pros and cons of different foods, including whole grains, fruits and veggies, nuts, legumes, refined grains, red meat, processed meat, and more.
Here’s what they found: Across all age groups (and across different countries, including the US, China, and Europe) consistently eating a whole foods-style diet instead of a Western diet increased life expectancy. What foods made the difference? “The largest gains would be made by eating more legumes, whole grains, and nuts, and less red meat and processed meat,” the authors said.
Think you’re too old for this diet change to make a difference? Think again. “Changing from a typical diet to the optimized diet at age 60 years would increase life expectancy by eight years for women,” the study authors wrote. “80-year-olds would gain 3.4 years.”
Of course, the research had some limitations. “The methodology provides population estimates under given assumptions and is not meant as individualized forecasting,” the study authors wrote. In other words, the authors can only make that estimate based on the data they collected — they can’t say for certain that we’ll each increase our life expectancy by eight years if we eat better.
It’s also unclear how long you would need to be on this diet before you experienced positive results (and increased your life expectancy). What is clear is that you’d need to eat healthy foods consistently to experience more healthy years ahead.
What This Means For You
So, what does this mean for you? While more research needs to be done in order to confirm these findings, adding more fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fish to your regimen can’t hurt. If you don’t think that you can dramatically change your diet overnight, don’t worry — even small changes can promote longevity. Cutting back on red meat, for example, increased life expectancy by 1.6 years.
With just a few changes here and there, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to add healthier foods to your day. Wondering where to start? Check out these delicious recipes featuring pinto bean dip, a high-protein breakfast smoothie, and three-ingredient veggie burgers.