Eating a plant-based diet could help you live a longer, healthier life, according to scientists at Harvard University.
Researchers followed the diets of 100,000 people from 1986 to 2018. They found that those who ate more plant-based foods — including ones such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts — were less likely to die in that time frame compared to people who ate meals that were heavy on meat and dairy, reported Sky News.
The research team recently presented its findings at Nutrition 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
The scientists developed a new Planetary Health Diet Index (PHDI) that shows the effects of food on human health and the environment. This index takes into account the risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, along with environmental impacts like land use, planet-warming pollution, and water use — the higher the score, the better the diet.
The researchers found that those with higher PHDI scores had a 15% lower risk of death from cancer or heart disease, a 20% lower risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases, and a 50% lower risk of death from respiratory diseases.
This builds on existing evidence that plant-based diets are healthier for people and less impactful to the environment. According to Harvard Medical School, research over many years has linked plant-based diets to lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.
And plant-based foods generally use less energy, land, and water and produce less planet-warming pollution than animal-based foods, according to the United Nations.
“As a millennial, I have always been concerned about mitigating human impacts on the environment,” researcher Linh Bui, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, said in a statement. “A sustainable dietary pattern should not only be healthy but also consistent within planetary boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental parameters.”
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