In a large, long-term study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that healthy eating may help you lead a longer and healthier life. Four dietary patterns were linked to a lower risk of death during the study period.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 100,000 participants over 36 years to see how eating habits affect the risk of death. They found that participants who reported following one of four healthy diets had a lower risk of death and a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases.
The study analyzed four patterns:
The Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern. It involves vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, healthy fats, lean meats, and poultry. It discourages red and processed meat, calories from added sugars, unhealthy fats, refined starches, and alcohol.
The Alternate Mediterranean Eating Pattern. It emphasizes filling your plate with plant-based foods and healthy fats. The diet stresses healthy fats, which include olive oil and seafood.
The Healthful Plant-Based Eating Pattern. It focuses on eating plant-based products and discourages all animal products.
The Alternate Healthy Eating Pattern. It involves consuming fresh veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, plant-based protein, fish and healthy fats. It discourages the consumption of red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
When it comes to eating well, you have options
There’s no one perfect diet. It’s important to choose a plan that suits your tastes—and your unique health needs. Your doctor can help you choose an eating plan that’s right for you. But the researchers noted that high-quality healthy diets have some components in common:
- Whole grains.
If you want to explore more about how to eat well—and how the foods you choose may affect your health—visit our Nutrition topic center.
- AARP. "Harvard Study Finds Healthy Diet Stretches Your Life Span." https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2023/healthy-diet-stretches-life-span-harvard-study-shows.html.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Choose Healthy Fats.” https://www.eatright.org/food/food-groups/fats/choose-healthy-fats .
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Variety of healthy eating patterns linked with lower risk of premature death." https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/variety-of-healthy-eating-patterns-linked-with-lower-risk-of-premature-death/.
- JAMA Internal Medicine. "Healthy Eating Patterns and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality." https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2800411.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Executive Summary of Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2020-2025.” https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/DGA_2020-2025_ExecutiveSummary_English.pdf .
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Nutrition as we Age: Healthy Eating with the Dietary Guidelines.” https://health.gov/news/202107/nutrition-we-age-healthy-eating-dietary-guidelines .