There are plenty of dietary tips out there, but the science that links diet and health isn’t always clear. A new study on the subject is one of the most comprehensive to date and has identified four dietary habits associated with lower mortality risk.
By analyzing the eating habits of 119,315 people over the age of 36, the researchers compared these habits with four sets of recognized healthy diets: the Healthy Eating Index, the Alternative Mediterranean Diet, the Healthy Eating Index herbal and alternative healthy eating index.
The study showed that sticking closely to at least one of these regimens reduced the risk of premature death from any cause and cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease. Although the diets differ, they all include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
This aligns with the Official Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the researchers note – guidelines that recommend several healthy eating habits tailored to individual preferences, cultures and health needs and offer a host of tips for eating in a way that doesn’t 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.
“Thus, it is essential to examine associations between DGA-recommended diets and long-term health outcomes, particularly mortality.”
The Healthy Eating Index, for example, provides recommended amounts for all major food groups, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. The Alternative Mediterranean Diet Score is comprehensive and contains data on fruits, fish, nuts, alcohol, and more.
Then there’s the Healthful Plant-based Diet Index, which ranks healthy plant-based foods (like vegetables and whole grains) against unhealthy plant-based foods (like refined grains and foods high in sugar) and foods of animal origin.
Finally, the Alternate Healthy Eating Index takes into account everything from vegetables to sugary drinks, primarily how this relates to chronic disease.
According to the results of this latest study, it’s a great idea to start following at least one of these approaches.
“It is important to assess adherence to dietary habits and DGA-recommended health outcomes, including mortality, so that timely updates can be made,” Hu said.
Although the research cannot say with certainty that these specific dietary habits prolong life – and relies on self-reported data rather than scientifically recorded data – the association is clear enough to demonstrate benefits for healthy eating.
As noted by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 6 out of 10 adults in the United States live with at least one diet-related chronic disease. Meanwhile, compliance with these guidelines has not improved much in recent years.
There is no shortage of studies on diet and health, although the recommendations may vary depending on age and our constitution. Legumes, whole grains and vegetables are often recommended, while fish, eggs and dairy products are generally best eaten in moderation, experts say.
What is clear is how important it is to commit to healthy eating throughout our lives if we want those lives to last as long as possible. This is part of the work of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which should be updated in the near future.
“Our findings will be valuable to the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is being formed to assess current evidence regarding different dietary patterns and health outcomes,” Hu said.
The research has been published in JAMA internal medicine.