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It’s never too late or too early to increase your life expectancy through diet

A 2022 meta-analysis study from the University of Bergen in Norway has shown that you can increase your life expectancy by 8-13 years by eating more plant-based foods.


Changes in life expectancy were estimated with sustained changes in the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, refined grains, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, milk/dairy, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages.


Surrey dietitian

Key findings:


· The largest gains can be made by eating more legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), whole grains and nuts, and less red meat and processed meat.


· Changing from a typical Western diet to a more plant-based diet in our 60’s increases life expectancy by 8 years in women and almost 9 years in men, and 80-year-olds would gain 3-4 years.


· The biggest increase in life expectancy was seen for those in their 20’s where life expectancy would increase by 12 years for women and 13 years for men.



5 easy ways to include more plant-based foods in your diet:


1) Swap animal protein sources for plant-based protein sources


There are many varieties of legumes, including kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, soy beans and lentils.


Legumes are very nutritious and provide a source of fibre, protein, carbohydrate, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous. They are practically free from saturated fat and cholesterol. Legumes are included as part of many healthy eating plans such as the Mediterranean diet and the low glycaemic index (low GI) diet. Legumes can play an important role in the prevention and management of many different health conditions.


Practical tip: Start by adding some legumes to dishes you usually prepare. For example, you could add lentils to your spaghetti bolognaise, mixed beans to your chilli con carne, and chickpeas to your salad.



Surrey dietitian

2) Eat a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables


Natural compounds called phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their different colours. Phytochemicals are often antioxidants which are natural chemicals with anti-inflammatory properties. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables provide the body with different types of antioxidants and have therefore been associated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease and cancer.


Eating a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables will help you to achieve your 5-a-day whilst also making your meals look more attractive.


Practical tip: Include at least one type of fruit and/or vegetable at every meal.


3) Include more whole grains


Whole grains include all parts of the grain, with nothing removed. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats, wholegrain barley and rye and whole wheat.


Whole grains are also sources of antioxidants which are natural chemicals with anti-inflammatory properties. These have anticancer and cardioprotective properties.

Whole grains are rich in fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fats. They may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and with weight management.


Practical tip: Swap refined starchy foods such as white bread, rice and pasta for whole grain alternatives such a brown rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat.



Surrey dietitian


4) Snack on fruit, nuts and seeds


Nuts and seeds are very nutrient dense foods and are a source of protein, fibre, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals. Studies have associated consumption of nuts and seeds with reduced incidence of coronary heart disease and gallstones in both genders, and diabetes in women. Some evidence has also shown beneficial effects on hypertension, cancer and inflammation.


Practical tip: For a balanced snack combine some fruit with nuts and/or seeds. The carbohydrate from the fruit will provide you with a faster source of energy, and the protein and fats in the nuts and seeds will give you longer lasting energy.


5) Cut down on processed meat


Processed meat includes bacon, sausages, ham, chorizo, canned meat and hot dogs. These types of meats have been processed in some way to preserve the flavour.


Consumption of processed meat has been linked to increased incidence of certain cancers as well as heart disease and diabetes. The current evidence suggests “the higher the intake of processed meat, the higher the risk of chronic diseases and mortality”.


Practical tip: Start by limiting your intake of processed meat to only 2 portions per week.



Surrey dietitian

Reference List


British Dietetic Association. 2022. Wholegrains: Food Fact Sheet. Accessed 9th October 2022. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/wholegrains.html


British Heart Foundation. 2022. Heart matters. Accessed 9th October 2022. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/5-a-day/colourful-foods


Fadnes, LT., Okland, JM., Haaland OA and Johansson, KA. 2022. Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modelling study. PLOS Medicine 19(3). Accessed 9th October 2022. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003889


Polak, R., Phillips, EM. 2015. Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake. Clinical Diabetes 33(4). Accessed 9th October 2022. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4608274/


Ros, E. 2010. Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients 2(7). Accessed 9th October 2022. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257681/

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