Nutrition for Longevity: Can Plant-Based Diets Reduce Mortality Risk?

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Nutrition for Longevity: Can Plant-Based Diets Reduce Mortality Risk?


A new study has found that eating a variety of healthful diets, which include a focus on whole plant foods, may be the best nutrition for longevity.

People choose what they eat based on a variety of reasons, from taste to health benefits, but what if the way you eat has dramatically changed how long you live? A new study followed four diets, the Healthy Eating Index 2015, Alternative Mediterranean Diet, Healthful Plant Based Diet Index, and Alternative Healthy Eating Index. While these diets are slightly different, the study found that people who focus on any of these four diets had a lower risk of mortality (death) during the study period. The common thread shared by these diets: each focuses on whole plant-based foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Diversity in diets shows flexibility in diet choices, pointing that out there there is no right way to eat healthy for a long human life. While there are many ways to support your health, studies show that your eating patterns have one of the biggest effects on your risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease, which in turn can prolong your life. life.

Swiss Chard Salad with Oranges and Citrus Vinaigrette

What Does Longevity Mean?

Longevity is defined as a long life or the amount of time you live past the average age of death. We all long for a life free of chronic disease, where we live longer, more fulfilling lives. Living extra years means more memories and time spent doing the things you love with your loved ones. So, how can we achieve this longevity? One way is by changing your diet to reduce your risk of chronic killer diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Texas Vegan Chili with Sorghum

Human Lifespan and Plant-Based Diets

This prospective cohort study followed the dietary habits of 75,000 women from the Nurses Cohort Study aged 30-55 years, and 44,000 men aged 40-75 years over 36 years. year follow up. All participants did not previously report having cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes. Their dietary patterns were collected using a food frequency questionnaire and then scored based on highest to lowest adherence to any of the four food patterns. They were then placed into five different cohorts, from the highest to the lowest adherence to their eating patterns in one of the four diet patterns. Follow-ups on eating patterns are administered annually. The relationship between food intake patterns and total mortality was examined to analyze risk.

The four eating patterns include the Healthy Eating Index 2015, Alternative Mediterranean Diet, Healthful Plant Based Diet Index, and Alternative Healthy Eating Index. The Healthy Eating Index 2015 follows US nutritional guidelines that emphasize a plant-based, low added sugar, and low unhealthy fat diet. The Healthful Plant Based Diet Index focuses on unprocessed plant foods, while the Alternative Healthy Eating Index focuses on foods and nutrients associated with a lower risk of chronic disease. Finally, the Mediterranean Diet focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and a high amount of healthy fats. Although all of these diets are slightly unique, they all focus on eating a plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

The findings of the study showed that those placed in the highest dietary adherence group of any of the four dietary patterns had a 20% reduction in mortality compared to the lowest adherence group. This means that people who followed these diets more closely had a lower risk of mortality, compared to people who did not follow the diets very closely. Studies have also shown that dietary changes over time can reduce your risk of dying from a chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Subjects who improved their diet by 25% over the course of the study reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 6-13% and cancer risks by 7-18%. Associations between dietary patterns and mortality were also not significantly different between races and ethnicities.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal with Pistachios

Nutrition for longevity

This study shows that you can extend your lifespan with a healthy diet, and even if you haven’t been eating the healthiest diet yet, it’s never too late to adopt new eating habits. Changing your eating patterns today can have a big impact on reducing your risks of developing chronic disease and increasing your longevity. It also shows that there is no one right diet, but the ability to adapt to dietary choices based on your preferences, health needs, and cultural traditions. What remains constant in all dietary patterns is the encouraged consumption of plant-based foods. Choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can lead to a longer life full of health, free of chronic conditions. Incorporating lots of color and variety can make a plant-based diet fun and delicious. Try new recipes and find what you like; your body will thank you later.

Written by Ashley Teltow, Dietetic Intern with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Main image: Kale Tofu Vegan Bowl with Turmeric Hemp Hearts Topping, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Read more about the study here: Shan Z, Wang F, Li Y, et al. Healthy Eating Patterns and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2023;183(2):142-153. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.6117

For more updates on plant-based research, read the following:

IPCC Report: Dietary Changes Essential to Reduce Climate Impact
What Diet Is Worst for the Environment?
Many Health and Eco Effects of Food Choices
Eat More Plant Protein for Longer Life

To learn more about eating a plant-based diet, check out the following:

How to Become a Vegetarian: 13 Dietitian Tips
6 Ways to Save Water in Your Diet
Top 9 Stealth Health Diet Strategies
9 Rules for a Healthy Vegan Diet