Young adults could increase their life expectancy by more than a decade – all they need to do is cut back on the red and processed meats, and eat more legumes, whole grains and nuts.
This is the intriguing conclusion of a Norwegian modelling study that details what kinds of foods could significantly increase or decrease how long you might expect to live.
The researchers have adapted their modelling for use by the general public in the form of an online tool called the Food4HealthyLife calculator.
While people in their 20s apparently have the most to gain by following the researchers’ advice – an extra 10.7 years for women, and 13 years for men – people of an advanced age would also enjoy substantial benefits.
According to the research paper, adopting what the researchers called an “optimised” diet at age 60 years would still increase life expectancy by 8.0 years for women and 8.8 years for men.
An 80-year-old could gain 3.4 years from making the suggested dietary changes.
Breaking down the model
The study was based on the United States diet which is (as it is in Australia) too heavy on highly refined foods and meats.
The New Daily has published a number of reports in the last year about the cost to our health from eating the way we do – and the changes we need to make to save our hearts and brains from being poisoned. See here, here, here, and here.
This new research carries much the same message, but takes the novel approach of quantifying the gains you’d make from making healthy changes in terms of how much extra life you might enjoy.
The researchers have advised that:
The largest gains in years of life expectancy would be made by eating more legumes, such as chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils and lupins. For women this would amount to an average estimated gain of 2.2 years, and for men 2.5 years.
More whole grains would gain women another 2.0 years, and men 2.3 years.
More nuts would bring a further 1.7 years for women, and 2.0 years for men.
Eating less red meat: a gain for women of 1.6 years, and men 1.9 years.
Eating less processed meat (bacon!) would give women 1.6 years, and men 1.9 years.
The small print
These exciting numbers are essentially a rough guide. As the researchers, from the University of Bergen, are careful to advise:
“The methodology provides population estimates under given assumptions and is not meant as individualised forecasting, with limitations that include 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.”
While the food calculator is designed for people in the US, Europe, China and Norway, you could reasonably choose the US option to get a guide to what your diet-driven life expectancy might be.
It’s a little finicky.
However the researchers suggest the Food4HealthyLife calculator could be “a useful tool for clinicians, policy makers, and laypeople to understand the health impact of dietary choices”.