There is plenty of dietary advice out there, but the science linking food and health isn’t always clear cut. A new study on the subject is one of the most comprehensive to date, and has identified four eating patterns associated with lower mortality risk.
By analyzing the eating patterns of 119,315 people over 36 years, the researchers compared those patterns to four sets of recognized healthy dietary regimens: the Healthy Eating Index, the Alternative Mediterranean Diet, the Plant-Based Healthy Diet Index, and the alternative healthy eating.
Close adherence to at least one of these patterns reduced the risk of premature death from any cause and of cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease, the study showed. While the diets differ, they all include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
That matches the Official Dietary Guidelines for Americans (ODG), the researchers note: guidelines that recommend multiple healthy eating patterns to suit individual preferences, cultures and health needs and offer a series of tips on how to eat in a way that does not harm our bodies.
“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans aim to provide science-based dietary advice that promotes good health and reduces major chronic diseases,” says Frank Hu, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts. .
“Therefore, it is critical to examine associations between DGA-recommended dietary patterns and long-term health outcomes, especially mortality.”
The Healthy Eating Index, for example, provides recommended amounts in all the major food groups, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy. The Alternative Mediterranean Diet score is comprehensive, including data on fruit, fish, nuts, alcohol, and more.
Then there’s the Healthy Plant-Based Diet Index, which ranks healthy plant-based foods (like vegetables and whole grains) versus unhealthy plant-based foods (like refined grains and high-sugar foods). and foods of animal origin.
Finally, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index includes everything from vegetables to sugary drinks, primarily how this relates to chronic disease.
Based on the results of this latest study, it’s an excellent idea to start following at least one of these approaches.
“It is important to assess compliance with DGA-recommended eating patterns and health outcomes, including mortality, so that timely updates can be made,” Hu says.
While the research can’t say definitively that these specific dietary habits lead to longer life, and it’s based on self-reported data rather than anything scientifically recorded, the association is clear enough to demonstrate the health benefits of eating right.
As noted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 6 out of 10 adults in the US live with at least one chronic disease related to their diet. Meanwhile, compliance with these guidelines has not improved much in recent years.
There is no shortage of studies looking at diet and health, although recommendations can vary based on age and how built we are. Legumes, whole grains and vegetables are often recommended, while fish, eggs and dairy products are often eaten in moderation, according to experts.
What is clear is how important it is to commit to a healthy diet throughout our lives if we want that life to last as long as possible. That’s part of the job of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will be updated in the near future.
“Our findings will be valuable to the Dietary Guidelines 2025-2030 Advisory Committee, which is being formed to assess the current evidence around different eating patterns and health outcomes,” Hu says.
The research has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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