We’ve been programmed to equate eating healthier with being healthier—the old adage “You are what you eat” became a popular mantra for a reason. Now, scientists from Norway have worked to help quantify this messaging, which may resonate with people in a more impactful way, especially Americans who tend to struggle with eating “healthy.”
According to CNN, the researchers used existing meta-analyses and data from the Global Burden of Disease study (a database that tracks causes of death, diseases and injuries, and risk factors around the world). The study, published today in PLOS Medicine, created a model of how a someone’s life span might be altered if they replaced a “typical Western diet” focused on red meat and processed foods with an “optimized diet” focused on eating less red and processed meat and more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
The findings are incredibly eye-opening: If a woman began eating optimally at age 20, she could increase her lifespan by about 10 years; for men, 13 years. But the study didn’t solely focus on young people: Starting at age 60, a woman could add eight years to her lifespan, and men could add nine years, proving it’s never too late to adopt a healthier habit. Even 80-year-olds in both groups could increase their lifespan by three and a half years.
Though “eating the rainbow” in the form of fruits and veggies tends to be the top advice touted by doctors and nutritionists, the study found that the largest gains in longevity came from eating more legumes (beans, peas and lentils), whole grains, and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios. Now that doesn’t sound too bad, right?