It’s Not too Late

July 18, 2017 in Health by Joyce Bunderson

Has it ever crossed your mind that maybe you’ve not always eaten a very healthy diet and so, alas, it’s too late to make any changes? I have counseled people who have said; “I’ve not eaten a healthy diet for decades, so what’s the point now?” Finally, there’s a study that speaks exactly to that issue.

The July 13, 2017 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) followed nearly 74,000 people who were 60 or older. The results of their study shows that sustained diet changes for the better, even changes later in life, might extend lives. Certainly, I’m not encouraging you to wait until you’re older to change your diet. It’s ideal to eat a healthy diet throughout your life; but if you’ve not done that, you can still reap valuable benefits from an improvement in eating habits. It’s motivating to see the results of this study, knowing that they found significant improvements in mortality in those who changed their diets for the better.

The researchers considered the change “for the better” if the person added more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It also worked in the negative direction. Those who let their eating habits deteriorate, actually had a 6 to 12 percent higher risk of dying – compared to stable eaters who didn’t change.

The researchers developed three scoring systems: the Alternate Healthy Eating Index; the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score; and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet score (DASH). The scoring systems were slightly different, but all three gave more points to consumption of foods such as: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy and sources of “good” fats, such as olive oil and nuts. Negative points were given for processed foods, sweets, red meat and butter.

Most interestingly, they found a significant improvement in decreased risk of dying with a relatively minor change. For example, just changing one daily serving of red meat to a serving of legumes or nuts, would be enough to see a significant decrease in risk. If you just look at their scoring for the three systems, you’ll discover that one of the easiest ways to lower your risk is to eat more plant foods. If you want to reap more benefits, then replace refined grains with whole grains; still more? Switch your full fat dairy to non-fat or reduced fat dairy.

One other piece of good news is that it’s becoming easier all the time. For example, there are many more laborsaving, convenient frozen fruits and vegetables than in the past. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often more nourishing and less costly than fresh. Part of the reason is that they are frozen very soon after harvesting, rather than suffering loss of some nutrients during long shipping times; or during market shelf storage before they ultimately are consumed. Less spoilage is one of the factors that helps make the price lower. Another new idea that some markets are embracing is partial prep. The market rices cauliflower; chops onions and so on. You likely pay a little more for these products, but if it gets the food onto your plate, it is very likely worth the extra cost.

So don’t let yourself, or your family slip into bad eating habits. Healthy eating habits really can make a difference and now is the perfect time to make some goals that improve your eating habits – no matter what your age, it’s not too late.