Improving your diet with healthier choices could add 13 years to your life

But you might have to give up processed meats.
Irmak Bayrakdar
The photo credit line may appear like thismarilyna/iStock

You are what you eat, but does that old adage also imply how long you'll be alive?

New research suggests that changing your diet and choosing to eat healthier could add to 13 years to your life. Especially if you start when you're younger. The original study was published on Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine

Choose vegetables over red meat

According to the study, replacing a typical Western diet that usually consists of red meat and processed foods with a healthier diet with more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts could help lengthen a man's or a woman's life expectancy. 

The results show that by practicing an optimal diet at the age of 20, a woman could indeed increase her lifespan by over 10 years, and a man by 13 years.

Though starting young substantially helps span people's life expectancies, switching to a healthier diet could help older adults as well. The study states that a woman that starts at 60, could add eight years to her life and a man that does the same could get an extra nine years. 

It's never late to switch it up

A mainly plant-based diet could even work for 80-year-olds, the study said: Men and women could gain about 3.5 years from a diet change. 

The study team from Norway used the data from the Global Burden of Disease study, a database that tracks 286 causes of death, 369 diseases and injuries, and 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories around the world to model the diet changes' effect. The created model is also now available as a publicly available online tool called the Food4HealthyLife calculator.

And the highest contributing factors to a higher life expectancy were found to be legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils, whole grains, and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios, the study says.

The aforementioned nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, in addition to proteins, that are linked with a lower risk of chronic diseases. 

While red meat and processed foods increase health risks, including coronary heart disease and bowel cancer, it's only natural that the study found eating less red meat and processed meat such as bacon, sausage, and preserved deli meats was also linked to a longer life.

A healthier option to swap red and processed meats with could be fish and plant-based proteins which include soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like quinoa, in addition to high-protein vegetables like broccoli.

Aside from adding years to your lifespan, changing your eating habits with plant-based options could be beneficial for the environment and a sigh of relief for our animal friends as well. 

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