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The ‘optimal diet’ could add more than a decade to your life – and it’s simple to follow

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It’s true that your life could end at any moment. However, barring a tragic accident or fatal disease, there is much you can do to prolong your life expectancy. Diet plays a pivotal role in extending your lifespan and researchers continue to investigate the most conducive food choices.

A new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine sought to assess the impact of different dietary approaches on life expectancy.

To do this, researchers used a predictive modelling technique based on meta-analyses and data from the Global Burden of Disease study.

This study provides summary measures of population health that are relevant when comparing health systems but does not estimate the impact of alterations in food group composition and respective health benefits.

Drawing on the study’s data, researchers employed a life table methodology- a demographic tool used to analyse death rates and calculate life expectancies at various ages – to estimate how life expectancy changes with sustained changes in the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, refined grains, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, milk/dairy, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Based on this predictive modelling, the researchers presented estimates for an optimised diet and a feasibility approach diet.

An “optimal” diet had substantially higher intake than a typical diet of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, vegetables, and included a handful of nuts, while reducing red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains.

A “feasibility” approach diet was a midpoint between an optimal and a typical Western diet.

What did the researchers find out?

A sustained change from a typical Western diet to the optimal diet from age 20 years would increase life expectancy by more than a decade for women from the United States and men.

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The largest gains would be made by eating more legumes, whole grains, and nuts, and less red meat and processed meat.

Changing from a typical diet to the optimised diet at age 60 years would increase life expectancy by eight years for women and 8.8 years for men, and 80-year-olds would gain 3.4 years, the researchers predicted.

What’s more, they estimated changing from a typical to feasibility approach diet would increase life expectancy by 6.2 years for 20-year-old women and 7.3 years for men.

The researchers acknowledged that the methodology provided population estimates under given assumptions and is not meant as individualised forecasting.

Study limitations included uncertainty for time to achieve full effects, the effect of eggs, white meat, and oils, individual variation in protective and risk factors, uncertainties for future development of medical treatments; and changes in lifestyle.

The researchers concluded: “A sustained dietary change may give substantial health gains for people of all ages both for optimised and feasible changes.

“Gains are predicted to be larger the earlier the dietary changes are initiated in life.”

In addition to eating well, it’s imperative to maintain a healthy weight.

That’s because, along with eating well, exercise helps you to keep obesity at bay.

Obesity can lead to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions.

These include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and bowel cancer
  • Stroke.

“If lifestyle changes alone do not help you lose weight, a medicine called orlistat may be recommended,” adds the NHS.

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