The four diets that will help you live longer
It can be hard to pick which diet is best for your health nowadays amidst a sea of conflicting information.
Researchers from Harvard University ranked four leading diets on which are most effective at lowering a person’s risk of death.
Look away vegans, as it turns out eating a diet of meat and dairy along with fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods is better than cutting out animal products.
Following dietary standards laid out by the US government is most effective, with the popular Mediterranean diet falling just behind it, with each lowering mortality risk around 20 percent.
Previous research has found that a plant-based diet comes with some risks, such as hair loss and an increased risk of suffering a stroke.
Researchers found that a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy is more effective than the vegan diet at reducing a person’s risk of death (file photo)
The results are based on survey data from 75,000 women and 44,000 men who were followed for 36 years.
Each diet graded by researchers was found to have a positive effect, as all reduced mortality risk between 14 to 20 percent.
Following guidelines laid out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – and a revised version developed by Harvard, scored best, reducing risk by 19 and 20 percent respectively.
The next best was a Mediterranean diet, which reduced risk 13 percent.
Going vegan can be a boost to health – but comes up short compared to diets that get a healthy mix of meat and dairy, dropping mortality risk just 14 percent
‘[These dietary standards] are intended to provide science-based dietary advice that promotes good health and reduces major chronic diseases,’ Dr Frank Hu, corresponding author of the study and nutritionist at Harvard, explained.
‘Thus, it is critical to examine the associations between [these] recommended dietary patterns and long-term health outcomes, especially mortality.’
The US government has developed the Healthy Eating Index as the nation’s official dietary standard.
Set by the USDA, the diet generates a score of zero to 100 based on how many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and seafood a person gets per every 1,000 calories they eat.
Eating 0.8cups of fruit – which includes juices and fruit products, 0.4cups (c) of whole fruit, 1.1c of vegetables and 0.2c of greens and beans per every 1,000 calories eaten would earn someone a perfect score in those categories.
The USDA also recommends 1.5ounces (oz) of whole grains, 1.3c of dairy, 2.5oz of protein and 0.8oz of protein to reach a perfect score of 100.
Working off of the official guidelines set in 2015, Harvard developed an alternative index that has a greater focus on total servings eaten per day.
The Alternative Healthy Eating Index calls for five servings of vegetables each day, four servings of fruit, five to six of whole grains, at least one serving of protein from nuts or tofu, and eating fish regularly.
This diet can be scored on a scale from zero to 110.
Mediterranean diets, which trade out chicken and beef for fish while also abandoning processed foods, sugary drinks and other unhealthy treats for whole grains, fruits and vegetables, have shot to popularity in recent years.
It has been heralded for staving off heart disease and dementia in its adherents. Harvard developed an index to grade how well eaters stuck to the diet, and scored eaters on a scale of zero through 100.
Finally, Harvard researchers developed a score to gauge how well a person stuck to a typical plant-based diet – generally known as a vegan diet.
Vegans will often eat more fruits and vegetables than others, and will trade fish and other meats for beans and nuts as their primary source of protein.
In the study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers gathered survey data from 75,000 women and 44,000 men for over 36 years.
As part of two major survey projects, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, participants would complete questionnaires on their health every two years.
A part of these check-ins included questions on how often a person ate any of 130 different foods.
They would also report any disease diagnosis’ they had received in-between each period. Deaths among the study population were also tracked.
Using the data on food habits researchers developed a diet score for each participant.
Controlling for outside factors such as family history, smoking and drinking, they then determined the risk of all-cause mortality each year a person suffers based on their diet.
They found that participants who scored highest on the Alternative Healthy Eating Index – Harvard’s remixed version of USDA standards – reduced their all-cause mortality risk by 20 percent when compared to the average person.
The USDA’s healthy eating index was the next best, reducing risk 19 percent. Mediterranean diet adherents dropped their mortality risk 18 percent.
‘Diet remains a cornerstone for maintaining optimal health,’ researchers wrote in the study.
‘According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, unhealthy diet is estimated as one of the leading causes of death globally.’
‘In this cohort study, greater adherence to various healthy eating patterns was consistently associated with a lower risk of death.’
While plant-based diets were still found to have benefit, going vegan is not as effective as a typical healthy diet that mixes in meats and dairy.
Researchers found that scoring high on a plant-based diet can reduce mortality risk 14 percent.