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A healthy diet at any age can extend your life

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No matter how old you are or how much junk food you consume, it’s never too late to start undoing the damage caused by malnutrition.

That’s the message from scientists studying how our food choices affect our lifespan and risk of developing disease. They found that people can reap significant health benefits at any age by cutting out highly processed foods loaded with salt, sugar and other additives and replacing them with more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, lentils, seafood and whole grains. .

The earlier you start, the better. Following a healthy diet from a young age leads to the greatest gains in life expectancy. However, even people who wait for middle age and beyond to improve their eating habits can add years to their lives.

Research is empowering for several reasons. It shows that you don’t need to change your diet to get benefits. Even small changes like adding a handful of nuts to your daily diet as a mid-day snack and cutting out processed meats like ham and hot dogs can potentially add years to your life. And she suggests that even if you’re in your 60s or older, making these relatively small changes to your diet can still have huge benefits.

Healthy food supplement for all ages

In a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists followed nearly 74,000 people between the ages of 30 and 75 for over two decades. During this time, they analyzed their diet and lifestyle habits and tracked changes in what they ate. Researchers used several scoring systems to assess the quality of their diets, including the Alternative Healthy Eating Index developed by nutritionists at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

The index gives low scores to unhealthy foods and higher scores to healthy foods. Foods that scored high included fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and unsaturated fats, and foods rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, avocados, and olive oil. Some of the lower-rated unhealthy foods were red and processed meats and foods containing sodium and added sugars, such as sugary drinks, pizza, potato chips, and other junk foods.

What are ultra-processed foods? What should I eat instead?

The more nutritious foods people eat and the less junk food they consume, the higher their diet score will be. The researchers found that people with consistently high diet scores were up to 14 percent less likely to die from any cause during the study period, compared with people who consistently ate poor diets.

But perhaps most importantly: People who improved their eating habits saw huge benefits. The researchers found that people who increased their diet scores by only 20 percent during the study had at least an 8 percent reduction in mortality over the study period, and a 7 to 15 percent reduction in their odds of dying from heart disease specifically. Achieving a 20 percent increase in your diet score can be as simple as replacing sugary drinks in your diet with mineral water and eating at least a handful of nuts or a serving of beans or lentils a day, Mercedes Sotos-Pieto said. of your study.

Noting that most of the study participants were over the age of 60, he showed that it’s never too late to take advantage of the improvement in your eating habits. The reduction in mortality among people who improved their eating habits was largely due to the reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, which is strongly influenced by diet. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Just add nuts, grains, beans and peas

Sotos-Pieto noted that by making small, gradual improvements in your food choices over time, eating a more nutritious diet can help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation — all of which can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

“It’s not necessary to drastically change your lifestyle,” said Sotos-Pieto, an assistant professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid and an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Choose small goals that you can achieve and maintain over time.”

In another study published earlier this year in PLOS Medicine, scientists analyzed large amounts of data on the effect of different foods on the risk of premature death. They then used this data, along with other research on mortality and chronic disease rates, to predict how changes in a person’s diet might affect their life expectancy at different ages.

Researchers found that a 20-year-old who switches from a typical Western diet to (and adheres to) an optimal Mediterranean-style diet can add an average of 11 to 13 years to life expectancy. But even seniors can benefit from it: A 60-year-old who makes this change could extend their life expectancy by up to nine years, and an 80-year-old could gain about three and a half years.

The study found that the biggest gains in life expectancy came from eating more legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. If overhauling your diet seems like a daunting task, start small by adding a few particularly important foods to your diet.

  • Eat a handful of nuts every day
  • Add a few servings of whole grains to your diet. Substitute brown rice for white rice.
  • Eat at least one cup of beans, lentils or peas a day. Add chickpeas to the salad; Eat a burrito bowl with black or kidney beans.
  • Add nut butter (peanut butter or almond butter) to toast, oatmeal, or yogurt for breakfast.

Lars Fadnes, lead author of the PLOS Medicine study and professor at the University of Bergen in Norway, said the health benefits you get from eating more legumes, nuts and whole grains are due to their metabolic profile. These foods are nutrient-dense with large amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

For example, legumes are high in protein and contain several B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc and phosphorus. These foods have also been shown in clinical trials to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol levels and other metabolic markers that affect your lifespan.

Fadnes emphasized that if you eat a lot of junk food, the sooner you change your eating habits, the better. Even for people who are overweight, elderly and in poor metabolic health, the benefits you can derive from eating more nutritious foods are “probably significant,” he said.

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