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A common resolution during the new year is the promise to eat better. After all, you are what you eat and if you want to go on to live a long and healthy life, then you will need to adjust your eating habits accordingly. However, which diet do you choose? From Keto to Mediterranean to Paleo to DASH, the list of dietary patterns is endless. As such, Harvard University researchers decided to evaluate which eating patterns were more likely to support and enhance your health and longevity. 

What’s the best diet for longevity?

In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a team of researchers from Harvard University set out to evaluate the relationship between four eating patterns and the risk of total and cause-specific mortality. For the study, the team looked at data on 75 230 women and 44 085 men. Over a period of 36 years, up until 2020, these participants had filled out a series of dietary questionnaires starting when they were in their early fifties. 

In order to provide their dietary scores, the team looked at how closely the participants followed one of four different eating patterns. These diets included the Healthy Eating Index 2015 (HEI-2015), the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), the Healthful Plant-based Diet Index (HPDI), and Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI). 

According to the findings of the study, those who were more likely to closely follow any one of the aforementioned eating patterns were:

  • 20% less likely to die of all causes
  • 6% to 13% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease
  • 7% to 18% less likely to die from cancer
  • 7% less likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases
  • 35% to 46% less likely to die from respiratory diseases

It should be noted that these benefits were found in all four diets, sans the reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases, which was only noted in those following the Mediterranean Diet and Alternative Healthy Eating Index eating patterns.

The study’s findings prove that while there is not one diet that is the best for longevity, there do exist general dietary principles that need to be applied if you want to boost your longevity. 

“The good news from this study is that almost everyone can benefit from adopting healthy dietary patterns regardless of race and ethnicity,”Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, senior study author and the chair of the nutrition department at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Longevity Food Groups

Often than not, people can get bored following one way of eating – especially during the month of January. Thankfully, the recent Harvard study proves that you don’t have to follow a specific eatery pattern and as long as you incorporate certain foods, you can tailer your diet to suit you. So, what are these foods? Well, the study noted that the featured eating style each placed an emphasis on the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

1. Whole grains

Whole grains, which include oats, buckwheat, quinoa, barley, and rye, are high in nutrients that can help improve your health and longevity.

Nutrients such as iron, magnesium, fiber, and B vitamins found in whole grains have been credited with why this specific food group is so good for you. In fact, a 2022 study found that eating more whole grains can add 2.2 additional years to your life expectancy. 

Recipe: Chipotle Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

2. Fruits

A fruit a day really can keep the doctor away. This is because whole fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals that can protect your health and longevity.

Recipe: Homemade Fruit Leather

3. Vegetables

Similar to fruits, vegetables also contain a host of vitamins and minerals that can improve your health. In fact, one study out of Harvard concluded that eating two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables every day is the perfect mix for longevity.

As for which vegetables are the best? The researchers revealed that green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts provided the most benefits. This may be because they contain high levels of vitamins K, quercetin, and sulforaphane. 

Recipe: Spinach with Tofu and Peas 

4. Nuts

Not only are they a great snack food, but since they’re a great source of protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, nuts are great for your health. Whether you’re a fan of walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or just regular peanuts, it would be advisable to include more nuts in your diet. 

Recipe: Weekend Walnut Pancakes

5. Legumes

Rich in fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, and, zinc, legumes are really a great, easy, and versatile addition to any diet. They’re also a great alternative to red meat due to their protein content. In fact, research has found that replacing red meat with legumes can improve blood sugar and cardiovascular health.  

Recipe: Sweet Potato & Bean Mash

Bottom line

While the Harvard researchers do concede that the findings of their study relied on participants being able to accurately recall and report their dietary habits, the length of the study does add weight to the findings.

As such, it’s never too late to improve your health by changing your diet. Now while you may be unsure of what a longevity diet looks like, as long as you stick to the basics, both you and your health will benefit. 

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev

References

Fadnes LT, Økland JM, Haaland ØA, Johansson KA (2022) Correction: Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. PLOS Medicine 19(3): e1003962. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003962

Shan Z, Wang F, Li Y, et al. Healthy Eating Patterns and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 09, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.6117

Wang, D. D., Li, Y., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Rosner, B. A., et al. (2021). Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women and a Meta-Analysis of 26 Cohort Studies. Circulation143(17), 1642–1654. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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