According to a new study, there are many different healthy eating patterns that can help you live longer — as long as those eating habits focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
For the study, Harvard University researchers looked at data from more than 75,000 women and more than 44,000 men who had completed a series of nutritional questionnaires over a 36-year period, beginning in their early fifties. None of the participants had a history of cancer or heart disease.
Scientists rated their diets based on how closely they followed one of four different eating habits, including a plant-based diet and the Mediterranean diet. The other two diets were the Healthy Eating Index, which follows the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, developed by Harvard, which considers how our diets are related to the risk of chronic disease.
People who most closely followed one of these healthy eating patterns were up to 20 percent less likely to die from all causes during the study, and were also much less likely to die from typical causes such as cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, the researchers reported Jan. 9 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Individuals from all racial and ethnic groups in the study were less likely to die prematurely when following any of these healthy eating patterns.
“The good news of this study is that almost everyone can benefit from eating a healthy diet, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, senior study author, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
No culture has the “healthiest diet”
A limitation of the study is that the researchers relied on participants to accurately recall and report their dietary habits over time, making it possible that people misrepresented how they actually ate.
Still, the findings offer new evidence that US dietary guidelines, which support a wide range of eating habits — including a variety of foods popular in different cultures — can actually help people live longer, healthier lives.
“Because there are a variety of healthy eating patterns, you don’t have to stick to just one eating pattern,” says Dr. whoa “In practice, individuals can choose a healthy dietary pattern according to their health status and cultural traditions.”
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“The fact that this finding was consistent across racial and ethnic groups is not surprising since we are all biologically the same,” says Michal Melamed, MD, professor of medicine, pediatrics, epidemiology, and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, who was not involved in the study.
“People can find healthy eating habits in any culture, as long as they stay away from highly processed foods and saturated fats,” says Dr. Melamed. “Try to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. It’s also good to eat fish and other sources of unsaturated fats.”