While this diet and life expectancy data may seem discouraging to older patients, the findings were just as positive for this demographic
It’s no big secret that diet impacts health. Watching saturated fat intake helps boost heart health, for example, and eating fiber-rich foods is good for the digestive tract. However, it can be hard to quantify the results of a healthful diet since the measures often used are a lack of disease. Yet, one new study puts the impact of the foods we eat into easy-to-understand terms by correlating diet and life expectancy.
Diet and life expectancy, by the numbers
In this study published Feb. 8, 2022, in PLoS Medicine, researchers used data collected from the Global Burden of Disease study, then used the information to estimate the impact of making sustained food changes on longevity. The eating plan that was deemed as “optimal” involved having a higher than typical intake of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruit, and vegetables (with some nuts) and reduced intake of red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and refined grains.
Based on their analysis, the researchers reported that switching from a typical Western diet to this type of diet at 20 years of age could add 10.7 years of life for women and 13 years of life for men. Additionally, those eating more legumes, whole grains, and nuts while also eating less red and processed meats had the greatest boosts in longevity.
Positive results for older demographics
While this diet and life expectancy data may seem discouraging to people already in their later years, the findings were just as positive for this demographic. According to the study, changing to this type of diet at 60 years of age could increase a woman’s life expectancy by eight years with a life expectancy increase for men in this age range a bit higher, or 8.8 additional years. Even individuals in their 80s would benefit from making the switch, potentially adding 3.4 years to their life.
There’s even good diet and life expectancy news for people who want to switch to a healthier diet but maybe aren’t as strict with their food choices. Included in this study was a “feasibility” diet approach which was between a typical Western diet and the optimal diet. The researchers determined that by changing from a typical diet to a feasibility diet at age 20, females can increase their life expectancy by 6.2 years and males by 7.3 years.
Helping patients improve their life expectancy
Educating patients about the value of a diet high in whole grains, legumes, fish, fruit, and vegetables while being lower in red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and refined grains can sometimes fall on deaf ears. But being able to give them actual numbers may help them realize the importance of choosing the right foods.
Ask them to consider all of the things that have happened in their lives over the last 8, 10, or 13 years. Then ask them to imagine how they would feel if they weren’t able to participate in these events. Put it in real-world terms so they understand the impact of their food choices.
Additionally, although the researchers in this study referred to this pattern of eating as the “optimal diet,” it has a lot of similarities to the Mediterranean diet. Making this connection gives patients the ability to do their own research on the benefits of this way of eating if they desire. For instance, they may find that some research has linked the Mediterranean diet with the prevention of cardiovascular disease and certain cancer types. Other studies have also supported this diet’s ability to improve longevity, mainly through its protective effects.
Content for your health marketing
Grab-and-go pamphlets with a list of foods to eat and foods to limit or avoid can help them remember what an optimal eating plan looks like. If you send a newsletter to patients, this would also be a good topic to discuss. Or talk about it in your social media posts, at the same time asking patients what they would do if given an additional decade (or more) of life.
In all of these interactions, it’s important that patients know that the results were based on sustained dietary changes. So, this way of eating must be a lifestyle versus being a fad that comes and goes.