Consuming the right diet can add years onto our lives even in old age, study suggests

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

The study found that certain diets can improve one's life expectancy. Image Source: pixelfit/Getty Images
The study found that certain diets can improve one's life expectancy. Image Source: pixelfit/Getty Images

Related tags diet Nutrition

What are the main benefits of eating a healthy diet? Well, according to a new study, living longer for one.. In fact, some longevity-related diets, particularly involving whole grains and nuts, can increase our lives by up to a decade.

In the UK, 75,000 premature deaths are linked to poor diet every year, and out of these, almost 17,000 are people aged between 15 and 70. Previous studies have argued that diets can lengthen a human life, with one saying that the ‘optimal’ diet could cause one to live for 12 extra years. Now, a new study suggests that certain diets can add years on to people’s lives even if they begin the change in old age.

The study, published in Nature Food, ​looked at the affect a change of diet would have on one’s life expectancy, and whether certain foods can be linked to a long life. It also explored how adherence to the UK Eatwell Guide would affect one’s life expectancy, as currently less than 0.1% of the UK population follows all of its guidelines.

Road to a long life

In general, the dietary pattern that the study linked with longevity consisted of a high intake of milk and dairy, nuts and legumes, and vegetables; a low intake of refined grains and processed meat, a ‘relatively low’ consumption of red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages, and a moderate intake of whole grains, fish, fruit and white meat.

Meanwhile, the dietary pattern with the highest associations of mortality contained no or limited amounts of fruit and veg, whole grains, nuts and legumes, milk and dairy products, and fish and white meat, but substantial consumption of eggs, refined grains, processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Specifically, the biggest gains in life expectancy are associated with increasing one’s intake of whole grains and nuts, and decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats.

Taking these two poles into account, the life expectancy (remaining years after stated age) for a 40-year-old UK adult consuming a median diet is around 44.7 years for females and 41.5 years for males.

According to the study, those adults following median diet patterns can gain around three extra years of life from switching to the longevity-associated diet, providing these changes are sustained.

Furthermore, those switching to the longevity-associated diet from the unhealthiest diet could gain around a decade of extra life.

Interestingly, for those aged 70 rather than 40, it isn’t too late to switch up their diet. While the extra life gained is less, it is still significant. Those aged 70 switching from a median diet to the longevity-associated diet can expect to gain around 1.5 extra life years, whereas someone switching from the unhealthiest diet to the longevity diet can gain around four to five extra years.

The Eatwell Plate, which works as a lodestar for what a nutritionally complete diet should look like, proved to be a relatively good guide for those looking to increase their lives. According to the study, those conforming to recommendations in the Eatwell Plate would gain eight extra life years if switching from the unhealthiest diet.

Sourced From: Nature Food
'Life expectancy can increase by up to 10 years following sustained shifts towards healthier diets in the United Kingdom’
Published on: 20 November 2023
Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-023-00868-w
Authors: L.T. Fadnes, C. Celis-Morales, J. Økland, S. Parra-Soto, K. M. Livingstone, F. K. Ho, J. P. Pell, R. Balakrishna, E. J. Arjmand, K. A. Johansson, Ø. A. Haaland & J. C. Mathers

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