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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Healthy Food for Living Longer

If you want to eat foods for living longer, consider a plant-based diet.

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"This gives Adventists a higher life expectancy than any other formally described population," the study authors' wrote. 

Ten extra years, without resorting to calorie restriction. What's more, this plant-based diet may offer protection from disease, according to the landmark China Project study, the largest study of diet and disease ever.

"In the '80s, China was like a huge living lab," says Banoo Parpia, PhD, an associate researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who is involved with the China Project. "People didn't travel, and they ate locally." The thousands of people studied were largely without refrigeration or processed foods. They ate essentially a pre-modern diet, often growing their own food.

In more than 65 rural Chinese counties, researchers took blood and urine samples, weighed food, gave questionnaires, and filled out subject histories on everything from smoking history to age of onset of puberty.

Chinese diets were low in total fat (about 6% to 24%) and much higher in dietary fiber (about 10 to 77 grams per day). These diets contained less than 20% animal-based foods. The average American diet contains about 60% or more animal-based foods.

"At that time, China had higher rates of communicable diseases so their average life span was shorter than in the U.S., but the rate of heart disease and diabetes was very low, and breast cancer was almost nonexistent," says Parpia.

When the researchers correlated this information with the reported incidence of cancer for the areas, they were able to attribute the low levels of chronic disease and some cancers to the Chinese plant-based diet.

"The China Project study and others like it allow us to actually assess how diet affects incidence of disease and longevity in the real world," says Barnard. "What we see over and over again is that vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets over a lifetime yield a five- to 10-year lengthening of life."

Published April 29, 2003.

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Reviewed on April 29, 2003

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