The Effect of Diet Choices on Longevity

Last Updated on March 16, 2022 by David Vause

Came across an interesting study in PLOS Medicine https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/ on diet and longevity: Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. Based on data from the Global Burden of Disease study (2019), published in The Lancet, the researchers modeled the effect of three diets on life expectancy (LE) using multivariate regression. The diets compared were the extant typical Western diet (TW), an optimized diet (OD) where longevity was maximized, a feasibility approach diet (FA). This last eating pattern represents a mid-point between TW and FA which is considered more feasible for European and American consumers.

FoodWestern Diet
(oz)
Feasibility Approach
(oz)
Optimal DietComments on Optimal Diet Portions
Whole grains (fresh weight)1.754.8 7.9 oz
(2.6 oz dry weight)
~ 7 servings: 2 thin slices of rye bread, 1 small bowl of whole-grain cereal, some whole
grain rice
Vegetables8.811.514.1~ 5 servings: 1 big tomato, 1 sweet pepper, mixed salad leaves, half an avocado, small
bowl of vegetable soup
Fruits710.614.1~ 5 servings: banana, orange, kiwi, a handful of berries
Nuts00.450.891 handful of nuts
Legume03.57.11 big cup of soaked lentil/beans/peas
Fish1.84.47.11 big slice of fish
Eggs1.81.30.91/2 egg
Milk/dairy10.68.87.11 cup of yogurt
Refined grains5.33.51.8e.g., refined grains in bread if mixed whole/refined wheat
Red meat3.51.80
Processed meat1.80.90
White meat2.62.21.8
Sugar-sweetened beverage17.68.80
Added plant oils0.90.90.9
Average Daily Consumption of Various Food for Each Diet

The health gains from FA and OD arise mostly from reductions in cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The impact of diet on LE is affected by the age at which the diet is adopted. Below is a table of the age-specific gains in LE at different ages for the diets compared to the TE. The LE values are for persons living in the U.S.

Age Male
FA Gain
Female
FA Gain
Male
OD Gain
Female
OD Gain
207.36.213.010.7
406.55.711.710
604.84.58.88
801.92.03.43.4
Age-proportional LE Gains in the U.S. Population

I find a few things interesting about this study. Note that it essentially describes the Mediterranean Diet as its optimal diet. This is unremarkable to me. There are no recommended amounts of red or processed meats. Two items that contribute substantially to healthier diets are nearly absent from the average daily consumption of the TW: legumes and nuts. The amount of added oil is minimal; I presume this means salad dressing too.

I acknowledge that correlation does not mean causation. However, the data sets used are worldwide and across all age populations. The dose-response is in direct proportion for all age groups. I strongly suspect causation is indicated.

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