For this study, researchers analyzed data from more than 75,000 women and 44,000 men, looking for links between specific dietary patterns, adherence to those patterns, and long-term health outcomes. The participants were followed for 36 years (they completed health questionnaires every four years) and at the start of the study, none of them had cardiovascular disease or cancer.
The results, published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine1, showed that participants who scored higher on adherence to one of the four healthy eating patterns were 20% less likely to die during the study period. They also experienced considerably lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease than the participants with lower adherence scores.
The results also showed that participants who made their diet just 25% healthier could reduce their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 6% to 13%, cancer by 7% to 18%, neurodegenerative disease by 7%, and respiratory disease by as much as 35% to 46%, which is pretty striking.
The research did have some limitations. For example, it relied on the participants’ ability to self-report their dietary habits, which opens up some potential for inaccuracy. It also shows a link between dietary patterns and a longer life, or correlation; it doesn’t prove that diet directly leads to a longer life, which is known as causation.