A healthy diet won't just help you lose weight – it'll add 10 years to your life

"Optimizing" your healthy diet by eating less meat and more whole grains can add a decade to your life expectancy

Vegetarian bowl of legumes and vegetables, great for a healthy diet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A healthy diet is one of the two essential components for weight loss, the other being plenty of exercise. Eating healthily means exercising good portion control and shying away from 'empty calorie' foods like chips and donuts, stuff which gives you a quick hit of sugar or salt with no real nutritional value. 

However, eating healthily isn't just about complementing your sessions on the best exercise machines to lose weight. It's also about staying well in both mind and body, reducing your risk of getting lots of different health problems in later life. That doesn't have to mean going vegetarian or vegan, but reducing your processed and red meat consumption has been associated with longer life. 

Researchers from the University of Bergen, Norway, looked at existing data from the Global Burden of Diseases to analyze what dietary changes affected people's longevity. 

They found that if someone aged 20 changed their "typical Western diet" (some healthy stuff, but lots of processed foods and added sugar) to the "optimized diet" (less red and processed meat like burgers, more whole grains like oats, and more legumes like beans and peas), they were likely to live a decade longer than someone on the Western diet. 

Mediterranean diet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

That's a pretty damning conclusion. The Western diet is well known for its over-reliance on processed meat products and lots of sugar in comparison to something like the Mediterranean diet, which is higher in oily fish, nuts, salad, vegetables and olive oil. The Med diet is famously good for our cardiovascular health and the omega-3 and omega-6 found in fish and nuts carry a ton of benefits, combating chronic inflammation in the body. Don't like either? You can also grab it in the best fish oil supplements.

Don't worry: you don't have to completely give up your favorite burger, but simple food swaps will go a long way to improving your health, extending your life and redressing the balance of a lifelong unhealthy diet. Start with simple food swaps: instead of a sugary breakfast cereal, donut or pastry, get oatmeal instead.

The whole grains in oatmeal will give you more energy throughout the day than a quick sugar spike, it's better for your heart and waistline, and buying a big bag of oats is cheaper than pre-made pastries, so it'll save you money too.

Meat is expensive, so skipping out on processed foods and red meat can save you money as well as add years to your life. Add an extra can of beans, or diced mushrooms, to your chilli instead of ground beef. Make some extra and store it in the fridge so you have a healthy meal for the next day.

If you need more inspo, our best vegan cookbooks list is chock-full of great healthy meals, so you can further reduce your meat consumption. That way, if you do want to treat yourself to a burger, it's just that – a treat, not a regular occurrence.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.