There is now more evidence that embracing a mostly plant-based diet in place of the Western or Standard American Diet (SAD),  can help you live longer and better.  A new study published last week in the journal PLOS Medicine has found that you can add up to 13 years to your life by changing what you eat.

The study considered an optimal diet to be one that had a substantially higher intake of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts while reducing red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains.  The earlier in life that you make a sustained change, the more years you add; but no matter when you start, you can extend your life.  Women who made the change at 20 added an average of 11 years while men starting at 20 added 13 years.  A woman starting at 60 extends her life by 8 years and a man making the change at 60 adds 9 years to his life.  Making the improvements to your diet at 80 adds 3.5 years of life for both men and women.  In addition to adding years to your life, improving your diet also improves the quality of your life with better health and having to take fewer medications.  The study also found that even by making more moderate improvements to your diet (somewhere between the optimal diet and the Western diet) increased life expectancy by 7% or more for both men and women in all age groups.

Poor diet is responsible for 11 million deaths globally every year, as well as 255 million disability-adjusted life years (the number of years lost due to ill health, disability or early death).  According to the CDC, only 12% of Americans eat the recommended 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit every day, and only 10% get the minimum 2 – 3 cups of vegetables.  Instead, the high consumption of ultra-processed foods and refined grains dramatically increase the risk of premature death.

Improving your diet can be as easy and gradual as you are comfortable with, making changes one meal at a time, one day at a time.  Those changes can include:

  • Eating plant-based proteins like beans, peas, and lentils instead of meat
  • Eating whole grains instead of refined white flour, white pasta, or white rice
  • Snacking on nuts and seeds instead of chips and cookies
  • Making sure to include fresh fruits and vegetables with your meals and/or snacks
  • Drinking water instead of sugary drinks
  • Cutting way back or eliminating processed meats like hots dogs and bacon, or red meat

As we’ve mentioned previously, improving your diet does not have to be restrictive or cause cravings.  It’s a process of eating mindfully and replacing the harmful foods with beneficial ones that improve your health instead of making you sick.  What you will find is that the more you eat whole plant-based/plant-forward meals, the less you’ll want junk food.

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