Going plant-based or even full-on vegan is good for the environment, and it certainly is better for your health. But a recent study featured in PLOS Medicine, a publication of the Public Library of Science, claims that significantly reducing or even stopping one’s intake of meat, poultry, dairy, and foods high in empty carbohydrates can add up to ten years to a person’s life expectancy.
The study focused on the life expectancy of adults in the United States and how the typical Western diet has adversely impacted the health and longevity of the American people, as well as that of people living in other countries who pretty much follow similar diets.
An unhealthy situation
The modern diet consumed by most Americans tends to consist of a lot of processed foods, particularly animal products that have been heavily processed with salt, sugar, and preservatives.
Whole-milk dairy, sugary carbonated beverages, and white bread figure predominantly in the diet. There is a significant lack of whole grains, pulses (peas, beans, and lentils), and even fruit and vegetables beyond the usual apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes, and carrots.
One key reason for this is that the protein-heavy and carb-averse ketogenic [keto] diet has gained quite a following among many people, not just in the United States. Many adherents get into the diet for the sake of weight loss or trying to bulk up with additional muscle. But unfortunately, numerous nutritional and medical experts have noted that such an animal protein-heavy diet can also increase one�s risk of developing chronic illness.
The dietary situation in the US is practically a textbook example of how poor eating habits can lead to a much lower lifespan. Indeed, according to a study on nutritional and lifestyle diseases published in the medical journal The Lancet, overly rich yet nutrient-poor diets kill one out of every five adults – that�s around 11 million deaths a year.
A significant dietary swap
But researchers have noted that switching to an optimal diet consisting primarily of plant-based foods, including raw produce and whole grains, starting from a relatively early age could add as much as 13 more years to the average male lifespan and 10.7 years to that of a woman.
Among senior citizens, swapping meat and dairy for more whole foods and plant-based foods can still help, though to a lesser degree. Changing up one’s diet in their 60s can help them live an additional 8.4 healthy years, while those in their 80s stand to gain 3.4 more years.
Interestingly enough, the diet change doesn’t even have to be drastic. It has long been noted, especially during the ongoing pandemic, that an increased intake of plant-based foods, particularly raw fruit and vegetables, can significantly boost the immune system. Researchers also noted that adding pulses, whole grains, and nuts to one’s diet can increase one’s life expectancy by two years.