Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables is known to benefit your overall health, but did you know it could also significantly increase your life span? A new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that changing your diet could add up to 13 years to your life. "Understanding the relative health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains," authors of the study explain.
To obtain their findings, researchers from Norway created a model of what might happen to a man or woman's life expectancy if they replaced a typical Western diet—one with red meat and processed foods—with an optimized diet packed with fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. To create this model, the researchers used existing data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, a data base that tracks different causes of death, disease and injuries, and risk factors in 204 countries and territories around the globe.
According to the study, a woman who began eating optimally at age 20 could increase her lifespan by just over 10 years, while a man of the same age could add 13. This lifestyle change doesn't just increase longevity for young people—a woman starting the diet at age 60 could still increase her lifespan by eight years and a man starting at 60 could add nearly nine. Additionally, 80-year-old men and women could gain an extra 3.5 years to their life expectancy from dietary changes.
Of the foods included in the optimized diet, the most notable gains in longevity were found from consuming more legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils, as well as whole grains, walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios. Additionally, eating less red and processed meat like bacon, sausage, and deli meats are also linked to a longer life, according to the study. "Research until now have shown health benefits associated with separate food group or specific diet patterns but given limited information on the health impact of other diet changes," says study author Lars Fadnes of the University of Bergen. "Our modeling methodology has bridged this gap."