Cook taking ready chicken from the oven

Start Now to Improve Food Choices and Extend Length of Life

Believe it or not, it really is never too late to make lifestyle changes to improve your health and potentially to extend your length of life. A 20-year long Harvard study followed approximately 74,000 people, ages 30 to 75. The researchers assessed their diets and lifestyle habits, tracking the food choices. The food choices were scored with low scores given to unhealthy foods and higher scores to healthy foods. Here is more from this study.

These were some of the unhealthy foods that scored low:

  • Red meats and processed meats such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, and hotdogs
  • Chips and other salted processed snack foods
  • Sweet beverages and high sugar, processed foods such as candy, cookies and frozen treats

These health foods scored much higher:

  • Dried beans and peas including lentils
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats including olive oil and other liquid oils, fatty fish such as salmon, and avocado
  • Whole-grains

The study results showed that those people with higher diet scores, in other words, with more healthful foods making up their diet, were less likely to die during study period than those with low scoring dietary choices.

During those two decades some of the participants moved to healthier food choices, and even with modest changes in their diets, they reduced their risk of death. The most common cause of death throughout the study period was cardiovascular disease which is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Results from a previous study showed that if a young person in their 20s changed from a processed diet to a Mediterranean-style diet, they could extend their life expectancy by up to 13 years. Even a 60-year old could add up to nine years to their life, and an 80-year old could add three-and-a-half years with more healthful food choices.

The researchers noted that the inclusion of more legumes, lentils and nuts provided the biggest health and length-of-life boost. Changes can be made one step at a time to ease you and your family into healthier meals and snacks.

  • At breakfast move from a sugary processed cereal to Cheerios which has only 1 gram of sugar or a hot whole-grain cereal topped with chopped nuts.
  • Switch out a snack of salty crackers for a handful of nuts or piece of fruit.
  • Replace a deli meat sandwich for nut butter or hummus spread on whole-grain bread.
  • Cook a mix of white and brown rice to start, and slowly decrease the amount of white rice.
  • Add canned rinsed kidney beans or chickpeas to salads and cannellini beans to soups.
  • Enjoy a homemade vegetarian soup weekly such as lentil or split pea.