Health

Replacing ultra-processed foods with a healthy diet lengthens life at any age

Highly processed foods are associated with the development of metabolic diseases and cognitive impairment (Getty)
Highly processed foods are associated with the development of metabolic diseases and cognitive impairment (Getty)

No matter how old you are or how much junk food you eat, it’s never too late to start undoing damage caused by a bad nutrition.

That’s the message from scientists who study how our food choices affect our lives and our risk of developing disease. Scientific evidence highlights that people can obtain considerable health benefits at any age by reducing intake of highly processed foods full of Salt, sugar and others additives and replace them with more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, lentils, shellfish, and whole grains.

The sooner you start, the better. Following a healthy diet from a young age leads to greater life expectancy. But even people who wait until middle age or beyond to improve their eating habits can still add years to their lives.

Scientific research shows that you don’t necessarily have to completely transform your diet to reap benefits. Even little changeslike adding a handful of walnuts to your daily diet as a snack at noon and reduce consumption of processed meats As the ham and the sausagesThey can add years to your life. And it suggests that even if you have 60 years or olderHowever, making these relatively small changes to your diet could still reap big benefits.

More and more research links ultra-processed foods to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease (
More and more research links ultra-processed foods to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease (

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicinethe scientists followed approximately 74,000 people between 30 and 75 years old for more than two decades. During that time, they analyzed their diets and lifestyle habits and tracked changes in what they ate. The researchers used several scoring systems to assess the quality of their diets, including the Alternative Healthy Eating Indexwhich was developed by nutrition experts at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

The index gives low scores to unhealthy foods and higher scores to healthier foods. Foods that received high scores include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and foods high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, avocados, and olive oil . Some of the unhealthy foods that received the lowest scores were things like red and processed meats and foods that are high in sodium and added sugars, such as sugary drinks, pizza, chips and other junk foods.

The more nutritious food people ate and the less junk food they consumed, the higher their diet scores. The researchers found that people who had consistently high diet scores were up to 14% less likely to die from any cause during the study period compared to people who had consistently poor diets.

Excess sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, responsible for about 9.4 million deaths a year in the world (Getty Images)
Excess sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, responsible for about 9.4 million deaths a year in the world (Getty Images)

But perhaps most importantly, people who improved their eating habits saw big benefits. The researchers found that people who increased their diet scores by just 20% during the study had at least an 8% reduction in mortality over the study period and a 7 to 15% reduction in their chance of dying. of heart disease, specifically. Achieving a 20% boost in your diet score could be as simple as replacing the sugary drinks in your diet with sparkling water and eating at least a handful of nuts or a serving of beans or lentils a day, he said. Mercedes Sotos-Pietolead author of the study.

The researcher pointed out that most of the study participants were over 60 years old, which shows that it is never too late to benefit from an improvement in your eating habits. The reductions in mortality among people who improved their eating habits were largely due to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, which is strongly influenced by diet. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Deep-sea fish, avocado, nuts and olive oil are some of the sources of Omega 3 that protect the heart (Getty)
Deep-sea fish, avocado, nuts and olive oil are some of the sources of Omega 3 that protect the heart (Getty)

Sotos-Pieto pointed out that eating a more nutritious diet, with small, gradual improvements in your food choices, cOver time it can help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation levels.all of which can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your chance of having a stroke. heart attack or a stroke.

No need to drastically change your lifestyle”, said Sotos-Pieto, assistant professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid and adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health. “Pick small goals that you can achieve and maintain over time,” she added.

In another study published earlier this year in PLOS Medicine, scientists analyzed a wealth of data on the impact that different foods have on the risk of premature death. They then used that data, along with other research on death and chronic disease rates, to estimate how changes in a person’s diet might influence their life expectancy at different ages.

The researchers found that a 20-year-old man who changed from the typical Western diet to an optimal Mediterranean-style diet (and followed her) could add an average of 11 to 13 years to their life expectancy. But even older people could benefit: A 60-year-old who made this switch could increase their life expectancy by as much as nine years, and an 80-year-old could gain about three and a half years.

A healthy alternative to replace them are homemade veggie burgers (Getty Images)
A healthy alternative to replace them are homemade veggie burgers (Getty Images)

The study found that life expectancy increased by eating more legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. If reviewing your diet sounds like a daunting task, start small by adding some foods particularly important to your diet.

– Eat a handful of walnuts every day

– Add a few servings of whole grains to your diet. Switch to Integral rice instead of white rice

– Eat at least one cup of beans, lentils, or peas a day. Add chickpeas to a salad or make a burrito with black or pinto beans

– Add nut butters (peanut butter or almond butter) to toast, oatmeal, or yogurt for breakfast

The consumption of foods such as nuts, legumes, shellfish, fruits and non-starchy vegetables, on the other hand, has positive effects on health (Photo: Franco Fafasuli)
The consumption of foods such as nuts, legumes, shellfish, fruits and non-starchy vegetables, on the other hand, has positive effects on health (Photo: Franco Fafasuli)

The tremendous health benefits of eating more legumes, nuts, and whole grains come from their metabolic profilesaid Lars Fadnesslead author of the PLOS Medicine study and professor at the University of Bergen in Norway. These foods are nutrient dense and contain large amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Legumes, for example, are rich in protein and contain several B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous. These foods have also been shown in clinical trials to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol levels and other metabolic markers that affect your life expectancy

Fadnes emphasized that if you eat a lot fast foodhow much before change your eating habits, the better. Even for people who are overweight, older, and in poor metabolic health, the benefits to be gained from eating more nutritious foods “are likely to be substantial.”

* By Anahad O’Connor, Washington Post reporter

KEEP READING:

Heart Longevity: How Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Stress Affect Cardiovascular Health
Replacing salt can lower cardiovascular risk by up to 14%
Cravings due to stress: how to train the brain to eat healthier

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