By Michael Donaldson, PhD
The results are in, again. An old vegetarian study on longevity showed that vegetarian Adventists lived about a decade longer than meat-eating Adventists . But some people like fresher data, so here is some more.
Data from a study entitled “The Global Burden of Disease” was examined for impacts of changing amounts of specific food groups on longevity . The main outcomes examined were cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Here in Table 1 are the main changes that had the most impact on longevity, for men and women ages 20 and 60. The author considered these changes to be an optimal diet (more on that below).
So, what are the changes? Including a daily serving of beans or lentils, using whole grains rather than refined grains, including a handful of nuts or seeds each day, and eliminating soft drinks, red meat and processed meat. The diet still includes fish and poultry, dairy and eggs and doesn’t require vegetable juice or blended salads. To me it doesn’t sound like that radical or restrictive of a diet.
So, even with these moderate changes the data from large groups of people indicate that you can get over a decade more of healthy life by adopting these changes when you are young, and when you are about 60 years old you can still get over 8 more years of healthy living. What could you do with an extra decade of healthy life? How about dying at 80 versus 70? Or 90 versus 80? Or even 100 versus 90? And we aren’t talking about an extra decade of poor health spent in hospitals, rehab centers, doctors’ offices and beds. This is an extra decade of good health where you can get out to visit friends, travel to see family, and keep up with your yard, garden and hobbies and ministries. For Christians, an extra decade of good health can be put to excellent use for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Aren’t a few dietary changes worth it?
You may be wondering, like I was, why fruits and vegetables weren’t mentioned much in this study. It was assumed by the authors that intakes of fruits and vegetables were already closer to the optimal amounts than the intakes of legumes, whole grains and nuts. What was their “optimal” amounts of fruits and vegetables? 400 grams of fruits (5 servings, e.g., 1 apple, banana, orange, kiwi, and a handful of berries) and 400 grams of vegetables per day (5 servings, e.g., 1 big tomato, 1 sweet pepper, mixed salad leaves, a half avocado, and a small bowl of vegetable soup). They claim that people get about 200 grams of fruit and 250 grams of vegetables per day now, so the impact of increasing intakes to “optimal” amounts isn’t very big.
I would agree that increasing to these “optimal” amounts won’t make a big impact. But I would disagree that 400 grams each of fruits and vegetables is anything close to optimal. The Hallelujah Diet includes about 1,000 grams of vegetables and 700 grams of fruits per day, based on a 2,000 calorie intake. When you get close to the true “optimal” intakes of fruits and vegetables your health improvements are noticeable better. There just isn’t much research on intakes at these levels.
Also, the low hanging fruit for preventing and reversing disease is cardiovascular disease and diabetes and bowel cancers. It is fairly easy to eliminate these diseases. Some cancers are much harder, as well as debilitating arthritis, other autoimmune diseases and dementia disorders. These diseases don’t just shorten your life, but steal away your quality of life long before you quit breathing. Very high intakes of fruits and vegetables needs to be part of an optimal diet that can reduce the risk of these other outcomes as well.
Even so, it is encouraging to see that even some fairly moderate changes can make a big impact. You are going in the right direction if you have already included legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds in your diet, while eliminating red meat and soda pop. Just keep on going and take the next steps to optimize your diet and health.
If you are still eating a typical Western diet, you don’t have to make huge changes to start reaping the rewards of a better diet. Take a step at a time to move in the right direction. Don’t just eliminate—replace! Make healthy substitutions for foods that you eat now. You can do this! Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to make the changes all at once, unless you are facing a significant life-threatening health challenge. If it was me, I would adopt the Hallelujah Recovery Diet today under those circumstances. But prevention is much easier than cure, and early-stage disease is much easier to reverse than late-stage disease. (Just understand that everyone eating a typical Western diet is in the early stages of at least one disease or another. It is just a matter of time.)
So, count the cost of your burger and fries with a large soda. Is that meal and lifestyle really worth giving up a decade of healthy living? It is your choice. . .
- Fraser GE, Shavlik DJ (2001) Ten Years of Life: Is It a Matter of Choice? Arch Intern Med 161:1645–1652. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.161.13.1645
- Fadnes LT, Økland J-M, Haaland ØA, Johansson KA (2022) Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. PLOS Med 19:e1003889. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003889