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Changing Diet Can Prolong Life by 10 Years.

Comfort foods or healthy foods, longevity’s the question! Research indicates that healthier food provides health benefits long term.

A new study analyzing food intake data and health outcomes of nearly half a million UK residents has found that switching to a healthy diet—and maintaining it—can add up to 10 years to life expectancy.

Led by Lars Fadnes, a public health researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway, the team modeled life expectancy for some 467,354 individuals who documented their eating habits as part of the long-running UK Biobank study, which began in 2006.

Participants were grouped based on their eating patterns and observed over time. Average and unhealthy eaters were identified, as well as those whose food intake matched the UK’s Eatwell Guide and others who consumed a diet referred to as the longevity diet.

After adjustments for smoking, alcohol, and physical activity, it was found that individuals aged 40 who made a sustained change from unhealthy eating to following the Eatwell Guide recommendations gained roughly 9 years in life expectancy.

Those who replaced sugary drinks and processed meats with whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and moderate amounts of fish (the so-called longevity diet) added an extra 10 years to their life expectancy.

Smaller life expectancy gains were observed among those who initially followed an average diet and those who improved their eating habits later in life.

“The bigger the changes made towards healthier dietary patterns, the larger the expected gains in life expectancy are.”

People aged 70 years old could still extend their life expectancy by around 4 to 5 years if a sustained change to healthy eating is made, either in accordance with the Eatwell Guide or the ‘longevity diet,’ the researchers found.

“Unsurprisingly, predicted gains in life expectancy are lower when the dietary change is initiated at older ages, but these remain substantial.”

“It’s exciting, but not surprising, to see the enormous health benefits of making dietary changes.”

Previous studies have shown how various healthy eating patterns mirroring dietary guidelines are linked to a lower risk of early death among US citizens.

While this new analysis looks at the UK, expanding the geographical range of such studies, the same caveats apply as with any population-level data.

“This work is important as it demonstrates that it’s never too late to make small and sustained changes towards a healthier diet.”

Katherine Livingstone, of Deakin University

For example, the UK Biobank doesn’t measure rice consumption, which is particularly important for many migrant groups, so the results won’t generalize to everyone.

The pool of data in the UK Biobank also predominantly describes people of a White European, middle- to upper-class socioeconomic background.

The researchers acknowledge that while their analysis looked at sustained dietary changes, “maintaining lifestyle changes over time with dietary improvements can be challenging, and for many, dietary patterns fluctuate over time.”

For some, the challenge is not motivation, but access. Health authorities may recommend a healthy diet, but access to affordable, nutritious food is a systemic problem and public health issue that government policies can help fix.

The role of food taxes and subsidies is emphasized by the researchers, aiming to make healthy food more affordable than unhealthy options. A 2017 study estimated that policies to tax unhealthy items such as sugary drinks while subsidizing healthy options could save 60,000 lives in the US every year.

Improving food environments in schools and workplaces by removing vending machines and offering more healthy options could also make a real difference to people’s health—not to mention the planet.


Adherence to healthy dietary patterns can prevent the development of non-communicable diseases and affect life expectancy. Here, using a prospective population-based cohort data from the UK Biobank, we show that sustained dietary change from unhealthy dietary patterns to the Eatwell Guide dietary recommendations is associated with 8.9 and 8.6 years gain in life expectancy for 40-year-old males and females, respectively. In the same population, sustained dietary change from unhealthy to longevity-associated dietary patterns is associated with 10.8 and 10.4 years gain in life expectancy in males and females, respectively. The largest gains are obtained from consuming more whole grains, nuts and fruits and less sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats. Understanding the contribution of sustained dietary changes to life expectancy can provide guidance for the development of health policies.

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