Every time you sit down for a meal, your choices impact your health, and a recent study showed a poor diet is linked to health issues ranging from diabetes and heart disease to cancer and decreased life expectancy. The good news is cleaning up your diet could help you live longer. Here, three healthy-eating tips to incorporate into your everyday life that can make a big difference:
“Ultra-processed foods [like soda, candy and packed foods] have a very low nutritional quality, [are high in calories], contain lots of excess sodium and added sugar and are low in fiber,” explains Maira Bes-Rastrollo, PhD, professor of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Navarra in Spain. “They have been associated with higher risk of obesity, depression, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer — all diseases with higher rates of mortality.”
Bes-Rastrollo co-authored a 2019 study showing those who ate more than six servings of ultra-processed foods per day had a 62% higher risk of dying during the 10-year study period than those who ate the least ultra-processed foods. For each additional serving of ultra-processed food, the risk of all-cause mortality (or the risk of dying from any cause) increased 18%.
“Learn how to read the ingredients list and be aware that if a product has a lot of ingredients with additives like emulsifiers, colorants and types of sugar, it’s more likely to have negative consequences for your health.” Instead, try to shop the outer aisles of the supermarket or at your local farmers market where you can stock up on whole foods.
Although low-carb diets have been associated with weight loss, new research published in the European Heart Journal found steering clear of carbohydrates might also increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
Those at the highest risk consumed fewer than 214 grams of carbs per day, which researchers suggest could lead to lower intake of fiber-rich fruits and veggies and increased consumption of animal-based proteins, cholesterol and saturated fat.
Moreover, a low intake of whole grains (defined as fewer than three servings per day) was the most significant risk factor for a cancer diagnosis, according to additional 2019 research.
However, these studies aren’t a license to go carb-crazy. Instead, Dr. David Ludwig, a professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests reducing your intake of fast-digesting carbohydrates like refined grains and opting for complex carbohydrates that provide sustained energy, including whole fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes and minimally processed grains such as steel-cut oats and quinoa.
If you have a history of heart disease, a recent study found adopting a Mediterranean diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, fish and olive oil, was associated with a 39% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
“This eating style helps lower levels of inflammation that are linked to heart disease,” explains Marialaura Bonaccio, PhD, an epidemiologist who co-authored the study. Additional research shows Mediterranean diets are linked to lower blood pressure and decreased risk of depression and dementia.
“We believe following a Mediterranean diet is one of the best ways to live in good health, even if you’ve already had a heart attack or stroke,” says Bonaccio. “We should keep promoting the Mediterranean diet … and [encourage people to] stop consuming junk food.”