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New Study Shows The Sooner You Swap To A Healthy Diet, The More Years You Can Add To Your Life

PLOS Medicine's study suggests trading processed foods for whole grains and legumes increases longevity in both the young and old.

It’s that time again when you read how eating a healthier diet means you’ll live longer. However, this time there is research to back how life expectancy does increase for those who follow a diet primarily made of vegetablesfruitslegumes, nuts, and unprocessed white meat and lowering or eschewing red and/or processed meats.

While this finding from PLOS Medicine‘s study is unlikely surprising, it is noteworthy that adapting one’s diet can increase their life expectancy well into old age. Similar findings are attributable to people living in China and Europe. (1)

The expected number of years added to one’s life is higher when eating an “optimized diet,” which consists of foods that do not add any “mortality gain,” at a younger age. For example, if a 20-year-old American male adopted an optimized diet over a “typical Western diet,” which has higher amounts of processed meats, refined grains, and pre-packaged food and drink with a lot of added sugar, they could add up to 13 years to their life. A 20-year-old American female stands to potentially add nearly 11 years to their life. Similarly, an 80-year-old American man or woman could still expect to add nearly four more years to their lives by switching from a Western diet to an optimized diet.

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. None of these supplements are meant to treat or cure any disease. If you feel you may be deficient in a particular nutrient or nutrients, please seek out a medical professional.

Diets: Western vs. Feasible vs. Optimized

Below is the daily amount of each kind of food used in the study’s methodology for a Western diet, an optimized diet, and what they termed the “feasibility approach diet” as more of a “midpoint” between the two former diets. The diets were based on 1,932.4 calories for the Western diet, 1,876.2 calories for the feasible diet, and 1,820 calories for the optimized diet:

Whole Grains (e.g. rye bread, whole-grain cereal, whole-grain rice)
  • Western — 50 grams
  • Feasible — 137.5 grams
  • Optimized — 225 grams
Vegetables (e.g. sweet peppers, mixed salad leaves, avocado, tomato, etc.)
  • Western — 250 grams
  • Feasible — 325 grams
  • Optimized — 400 grams
Fruits (e.g. apples, bananas, oranges, kiwis, berries, etc.)
  • Western — 200 grams
  • Feasible — 300 grams
  • Optimized — 400 grams
  • Western — zero grams
  • Feasible — 12.5 grams
  • Optimized — 25 grams
Legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, peas, etc.)
  • Western — zero grams
  • Feasible — 100 grams
  • Optimized — 200 grams
  • Western — 50 grams
  • Feasible — 125 grams
  • Optimized — 200 grams
  • Western — 50 grams
  • Feasible — 37.5 grams
  • Optimized — 25 grams
  • Western — 300 grams
  • Feasible — 250 grams
  • Optimized — 200 grams
Refined Grains
  • Western — 150 grams
  • Feasible — 100 grams
  • Optimized — 50 grams
Red Meat
  • Western — 100 grams
  • Feasible — 50 grams
  • Optimized — zero grams
Processed Meat
  • Western — 50 grams
  • Feasible — 25 grams
  • Optimized — zero grams
Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
  • Western — 500 grams
  • Feasible — 250 grams
  • Optimized — zero grams
Added Plant Oils
  • Western — 25 grams
  • Feasible — 25 grams
  • Optimized — 25 grams


Below is the expected longevity (in years) gained for following an optimized diet, starting at the designated ages:


Of note, these longevity gains are for those who would transition from a Western diet to the feasible or optimal diets. Those who already follow an optimal diet are already more likely to live longer than their Western diet-eating counterparts, according to the study. Another way to think about this is a Western diet functionally reduces life expectancy when compared to an optimal diet.

Biggest Takeaways

Unfortunately for carnivores, this PLOS Medicine study suggests eating less red and processed meat could lead to the biggest gains in life expectancy. If dropping those delicious cheeseburgers and cold cut subs is too much of a drawback — after all, increased life expectancy is presumably better if the additional years are enjoyable — even tapering a diet more to the feasible or optimal can have positive effects on longevity. The benefits are not all or nothing. So next time you have the opportunity to reach for whole-grain cereal over the favorite sugar-loaded alternative, go for it. When heading out for a nice dinner and the options are surf or turf, opt for the seafood.

To learn more about the methodology and meta-analysis used in PLOS Medicine‘s research, you can read the study in full on their website.

  1. Fadnes, L., Økland, J., Haaland, Ø., & Johansson, K. (2022). Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. PLOS Medicine19(2), e1003889. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003889

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