How to live longer: The diet that reduces your risk of developing chronic disease by 50%

How to live longer: The diet that reduces your risk of developing chronic disease by 50%

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Research continues to promote a positive message about life expectancy: it is to a large extent in your hands. That’s because the risk of chronic disease – the main threat to longevity – is largely modifiable. Diet is a crucial lever and one approach has been shown to slash the risk of developing a range of chronic diseases.

“After reviewing clinical trials and epidemiological studies* on ageing, researchers found that people who ate plant-based foods were up to 50 percent less likely to develop chronic diseases that are more likely to present themselves during the ageing process, including Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease,” reports health body Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare.

The finding should not come as a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the literature.

Numerous studies have pointed to the beneficial impact of following a plant-based diet.

What’s more, you don’t have to cut out meat entirely to reap the benefits, one study suggests.

Researchers at Harvard and Tehran University analySed 32 studies about protein intake that included more than 715,000 people, with follow-up periods ranging from three-and-a-half years to over three decades.

Combining data from multiple studies, the researchers calculated that getting three percent more of total calories in the form of plant protein (such as beans, nuts, and whole grains) lowered people’s risk for premature death by five percent.

Another study, published by JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at the survival rates of more than 416,000 people who’d reported their diet and lifestyle information 16 years earlier (when they were 50 to 71 years old).

In this study, shifting just three percent of calorie intake from animal protein (meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products) to plant protein corresponded with a 10 percent decrease in death from any cause over that period, for both men and women.

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In particular, replacing eggs and red meat with plant proteins appeared to reduce death risk by as much as 24 percent in men and 21 percent in women — especially in people with high intake of eggs and red meat.

What’s in a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is based on foods that come from plants with few or no ingredients that come from animals. This includes vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits.

According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), plant-based diets rich in beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, whole grains (such as oats, barley and quinoa) and minimally processed foods can provide all the nutrients needed for good health.

The exception is vitamin B12.

The BDA explains: “This nutrient is not available from plants. You will need to get this from fortified foods or a supplement.”

If you are reducing foods that come from animals, or cutting them out altogether, there are a few nutrients that you need to pay attention to.

The NHS recommends:

  • Basing meals on starchy carbohydrates
  • Dairy or dairy alternatives are needed for calcium
  • Eat beans, pulses, eggs and other sources of protein.

Other important tips for living longer

A healthy dietary approach should be complemented with a regular exercise regime.

It can help you manage your weight, reduce your risk of developing many health conditions and prevent mental health problems.

UK guidelines recommend that you take as much opportunity as you can to be active.

According to Bupa, every minute of activity counts, and the type of activity you do could come from these main areas:

  • Active travel. This means using a bike or walking to get to and from the places you need to go
  • Active recreation. These are activities that are part of your daily life – for example, walking the dog, carrying heavy shopping and doing the housework. For children, it can mean play, games and time spent at the playground
  • Sport. This means both organised sport such as your local five-a-side football, and an exercise class or activity you do yourself such as jogging or cycling.

“All adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week,” adds the health body.

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