Today a brief answer to a substantial question.
How much effect does what you eat have on your life span? It turns out that diet is extremely important for a long and healthy life. In fact, a 2017 study that included 188 countries worldwide established that dietary factors are the leading cause of death and disability around the world (1).
Do we know which foods are the healthiest so that we can eat to not only live a long life but also enjoy health in our lengthened years?
There have been many systems developed to rate dietary quality but their results can vary due to different assessment methods and investigator interpretation. However, there are four dietary scores that have their basis in firm scientific findings making them easy to standardize and their results readily translatable to dietary guidance.
These four dietary scores are;
The Healthy Eating Index–2010 (HEI-2010) (2)
The Alternative Healthy Eating Index–2010 (AHEI-2010) (3)
The alternate Mediterranean Diet (aMED) score (4)
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) score (5)
In 2014 a study involving almost 425,000 participants examined the relationship between these four dietary indices and death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer as part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study (6).
Results showed that eating a healthy diet was associated with a 12% to 28% reduction in death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer in both men and women.
Specifically, they found…
17% to 24% lower risk for all-cause mortality
14% to 28% lower risk for cardiovascular disease mortality
12% to 24% lower risk for cancer mortality
These results were similar across all four diet quality scores (6).
What is this healthy diet that has the power to lengthen both health and life? The common and consistent core of all four of these healthy diet indices is an eating pattern that emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and plant-based proteins such as nuts and legumes. Reassuringly this conclusion is supported by extensive scientific evidence (6,7).
The recently released analysis of the results of the 2017 Global Burden of Disease agrees. It found that 22% of all deaths worldwide in adults are due to diet-related causes. The top risk factors for early death and disability? Once again, the answer is diets low in whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds and vegetables (8).
So what can we do in our own lives to help maintain our health into old age?
There is a simple and readily attainable answer to this question.
Eat plants, especially vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
1 GBD 2013 Risk Factors Collaborators. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks in 188 countries, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet. 2015 Dec 5;386(10010):2287-323.
2 Guenther, P.M., Casavale, K.O., Reedy, J., Kirkpatrick, S.I., Hiza, H.A., Kuczynski, K.J., Kahle, L.L., Krebs-Smith, S.M. Update of the Healthy Eating Index: HEI-2010. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113:569–580.
3 Chiuve, S.E., Fung, T.T., Rimm, E.B., Hu, F.B., McCullough, M.L., Wang, M., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C. Alternative dietary indices both strongly predict risk of chronic disease. J Nutr. 2012;142:1009–1018.
4 Fung, T.T., McCullough, M.L., Newby, P.K., Manson, J.E., Meigs, J.B., Rifai, N., Willett, W., Hu, F.B. Diet-quality scores and plasma concentrations of markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82:163–173.
5 Fung, T.T., Chiuve, S.E., Rexrode, K.M., Hu, F.B. Adherence to a DASH-style diet and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:713–720.
6 Reedy, J., Krebs-Smith, S.M., Miller, P.E., Liese, A.D., et al. Higher Diet Quality is Associated with Decreased Risk of All-Cause, Cardiovascula Disease, and Cancer Mortality among Older Adults. J Nutr. June 2014; 144(6):881-889.
7 McCullough, M.L. Diet Patterns and Mortality: Common Threads and Consistent Results. J Nutr. June 2014; 144(6): 795-796.
8 Afshin, A., Sur, P.J., Fay, K.A., Cornaby, L., Ferrara, G., Salama, J.S., Mullany, E.C. et al.
Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Open AccessPublished: April 03, 2019 DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30041-8.