A new study says that eating the right foods can add more than a decade to your life. Published in PLOS Medicine, the study builds a correlation between diet and lifespan. The researchers aren’t just saying the right diet will make you healthy, they’re saying they can calculate how many years an optimal diet can add to your life. And they’re happy to share their results.
The researchers put together two different diets to compare against a typical Western diet. One is the optimal diet with a “substantially higher intake“ of foods such as whole grains, legumes, and fish. The optimal diet also reduces factors such as red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages. They also looked at a “feasibility approach diet” that was at the midpoint between optimal and a typical Western diet. While the optimal diet was more effective, both diets added years to expected lifespans.
It’s important to mention that the change in diet works best when started young. According to the researchers, a 20-year-old man could add 13 years to his life with the optimal diet. A 20-year-old woman following the diet could add 10.7 years. But it also has benefits for older people. For example, a 60-year-old man could increase his life expectancy by eight years by changing what he eats.
To help come up with the numbers, the researchers built their own online calculator, Food4healthylife.org. It’s not the slickest website (and it’s pretty busy right now), but it will show you how a variety of changes to your diet could affect your lifespan, both positively and negatively. For example, a 20-year-old man could increase his legume intake and eat less red meat and the result adds 4.4 years to their expected lifespan.
Of course, the study only focuses on diet and doesn’t include any other factors related to life expectancy, so you might not want to put your expected lifespan on the calendar. But it does demonstrate that sustained dietary changes can add up to substantial health gains that could change your life for the better.
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