Improving your diet quality by 20% through simple diet changes can lead to a longer life — and it’s surprising how small the changes are to get you there.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine shared how making a few minor tweaks to your eating habits can produce a noticeable increase in your lifespan. I find it fascinating that this was the first time researchers actually looked at whether changing your eating habits for the better would have any effect on how long you live. It seems so obvious that the answer would be yes — but no one had ever actually done research to see if it’s really true.
And boy, is it true.
What the study looked at
Researchers analyzed data from almost 48,000 women who participated over a total of 16 years in the Nurses Health Study and 26,000 men who took part in the Healthy Professionals Follow-Up Study. What they found is that those whose diets scored consistently high on three separate measures of diet quality had between 11 and 14% lower risk of death from any cause than those whose diet quality scored consistently low.
That’s pretty impressive by itself, but the part that really caught my attention was what the study found when people made the commitment to healthier eating. Those participants whose diet quality scores improved by 20% over time had a reduction of between 8 to 17% in their risk of death by any cause—regardless of whether those improvements took 8, 12, or 16 years to accomplish. The association was stronger when cardiovascular causes of death were considered in isolation. And the reverse was also true: If the participants’ diet quality got worse over time, their risk of dying during the study period grew by 6–12%.
5 diet changes that may just save your life
Something else that I noticed about this study — so many of the diet changes researchers note can lengthen your lifespan are the same eating habits that do so much to protect your bones!
1. Less meat, more lentils. The authors noted that “…increase in consumption of nuts and legumes from no servings to 1 serving per day and a reduction in consumption of red and processed meats from 1.5 servings per day to little consumption will result in an improvement of 20 points in the score.” So if you are thinking of beef stew for dinner, you might want to skip the red meat and eat a bean-based chili instead — with plenty of veggies!
2. Use high-fiber whole grains instead of their processed counterparts. In place of pasta or white rice, why not try wild rice instead? It’s higher in fiber and lower in carbohydrate — and less acidifying. (Throw in a handful of chopped walnuts or cashews for additional anti-inflammatory benefits.)
3. Skip the soda and drink water with a splash of lemon or lime juice instead. Citrus fruits are especially alkalizing additions — and it’s almost universally true that most of us aren’t well hydrated so drink up!
4. Eat more leafy greens. Commit to adding at least one leafy green vegetable — even just one! — to your plate at one meal each day. You’d be amazed at how easy it is — and you’ll get more out of it if you substitute it for something less beneficial, like pasta or potatoes. Whether cooked or in a fresh salad, the benefits of leafy greens are unmistakable.
5. Experiment with spices. There are a number of spices with bone-supporting properties, and it’s a simple matter to include them to your recipes. I’ve offered some suggestions for using one of them, turmeric, in an earlier post.
I know many people think that making changes to improve health is an arduous uphill climb. It isn’t! If there’s one thing I hope all my readers will share with their family and friends, it’s this: You can make a big difference by making a few small diet changes.
Have a friend who could use this information? Please share this blog — and save a life!
Sotos-Prieto M., Bhupathiraju S.N., Mattei J., et al. Association of changes in diet quality with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med 2017;377(2):143–153.