A new online calculator developed to estimate how dietary changes can impact life expectancy has shown that a young adult living in America could add a decade to their life by replacing a typical Western diet with an optimised diet.

Eating less red and processed meat and opting for more whole grains, nuts and legumes could have a significant effect on a person’s life expectancy, researchers have said. Older people could also add extra time to their lives, but less so than younger individuals.

Norwegian researchers developed the model after studying data from the Global Burden of Diseases. The Food4HealthyLife calculator, which is now available as an online tool, provides an estimate of how a variety of different dietary changes can impact on life expectancy.

The study authors said: “Understanding the relative health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains. The Food4HealthyLife calculator could be a useful tool for clinicians, policy makers, and lay-people to understand the health impact of dietary choices.”

Lead author Lars Fadnes, from the University of Bergen, said: “Research until now have shown health benefits associated with separate food groups or specific diet patterns but given limited information on the health impact of other diet changes. Our modelling methodology has bridged this gap.”

Swapping a Western diet to an optimised diet at age 20 could add more than 10 years to the life expectancy of a young adult living in America. Making the change aged 60 could increase life expectancy by eight years, while people aged 80 could add just over three years to their life.

The study has been published in PLOS Medicine.

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