Doctors have long encouraged their patients to eat more vegetables. Other recommendations repeated ad nauseam are to increase whole grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables to improve our health and control weight. Well, now science has confirmed this “common sense advice” on healthy diets via a prestigious research spanning more than three decades and in which 120,000 people were rigorously studied.

Specifically, the study led by Dr. Frank Hu, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, was recently published in the scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The research team found, after analyzing 75,230 women from 1984 to 2020 and 44,085 men (from 1986 to 2020), a significant association between four healthy eating patterns is 20% reduction in the risk of premature death.

These eating habits reduce the risk of dying from cancer

The study authors concluded that “people who followed any of the healthy eating patterns more closely also had less likely to die from cancercardiovascular, respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases”.

Initially, Dr. Hu and his colleagues wanted to test whether there was a “better diet” to reduce mortality. Thus, the researchers analyzed four diets recommended by recognized international organizations. They are: the Healthy Eating Index, better known in the literature as the Healthy Eating Index; the alternative Mediterranean diet score; the Healthy Plant Diet Index (hPDI) and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI).

What is the best diet? The Mediterranean in the spotlight

These four guides or dietary patterns are focused on a high consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. But they wanted to see which one was the best of them. And getting to the results took several decades. “We reviewed a large body of literature, designed different components, and created a score to reflect the best available evidence for healthy eating and chronic disease reduction,” explains Dr. Huh.

Men were followed up for 34 years and women for 36 years, with the aim of assess long-term eating habits. Each participant received a score for each of the four eating patterns at baseline. This continued to be updated every four years during follow-up. During that course, 31,263 women and 22,900 men died.

The main results of the research are that healthy diets based on the AHEI Healthy Eating Index and the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower mortality from neurodegenerative diseases. But overall, all healthy eating patterns were associated with a 20% reduction in total mortality, as well as a lower risk of death from disease heart disease or cancer. According to the study, these associations were consistent across racial and ethnic groups, including Hispanics, blacks, and whites.

There is no “magic recipe”

“There’s a lot of confusion about popular diets and their relationship to chronic mortality,” says Dr. Huh. The reality, says the study’s lead author, is that “there is no wand or magic recipe that can prolong life or that one diet is a better cure than another diet.” The important thing is to follow the basic principles of healthy, healthy eating, he adds.

Although it does provide some tricks. And so, he points out that all four dietary patterns in the study contained higher amounts of minimally processed foods and relatively smaller amounts of ultra-processed foods. “Also, I think people can have a lot of flexibility in choosing different protein groups, different types of fruits and vegetables, and whether they want to be more semi-vegetarian or vegetarian.”

For people who want to improve their diet and health “the results are reassuring”concludes the study’s lead author, and “shows that people have a variety of healthy eating patterns to choose from.”