In Australia, at this point in time, you will find that: 2 in 3 adults are overweight or obese; 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese; nearly 300 people will develop diabetes today and every coming day; and one person will die from cardiovascular disease every 12 minutes, which is more than 40,000 people dying from this disease every year.
Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are resulting in people living shorter lives, and evidently, diet is the predominant risk factor behind the development and progression of these conditions. In particular, standard Western diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugars, animal foods, sodium and unhealthy fats are to blame.
Plant-based diets have been associated with increased life expectancy. This is likely related to their incredible nutrient profile, comprising rich amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants, as well as minimal amounts of saturated fats, sugars and sodium. Also, the low energy density of plant-based foods often results in calorie deficit. This is significant, because more and more research is showing that a low-calorie lifestyle could prolong health into old age and possibly even extend life. Mechanisms behind this are not fully understood yet, but likely involve alterations in energy metabolism, oxidative damage, insulin sensitivity, inflammation and functional changes.
Further to this, studies have shown that specific geographical locations around the world, whose populations follow plant-based diets, have higher proportions of centenarians (people living past 100 years old) as well as people living past the age of 90. These locations are referred to as the Blue zones, and include Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Loma Linda (California), Ikaria (Greece) and the Nicoya Penisula (Costa Rica).
A meta-analysis performed on 154 dietary surveys from these five Blue Zones found that 95% of 100 year olds ate plant-based diets, including plenty of beans and whole grains.
Numerous other studies have found that those consuming generous amounts of vegetables receive a rich supply of vitamin C and polyphenols, which are both potent antioxidants. These nutrients reduce oxidative damage and dampen inflammation in the body, in turn reducing disease risk.
It is well known that plant-based foods are rich in fibre and potassium; both of these assist in protecting cardiovascular health. This is seen in Elderly people from the Blue Zones, who have impressively young and clean arteries, low cholesterol, low homocysteine levels and low blood free radical levels, compared to the average Westerner. All of these factors promote a healthy cardiovascular system, reduce the affects of ageing and increase life expectancy.
Another major study, known as The Nurses Health Study, evaluated the relation between dietary patterns and all-cause mortality (death) among 72,113 women. The study found that those following a predominantly plant-based diet (high intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains) compared to a typical Western diet (high intakes of red meat, processed meat, refined grains, chips and sweets) had a 17% lower risk of total mortality. Which means a 17% lower risk of dying early.
Over and over again it has been concluded that dietary patterns associated with longevity emphasise a high intake of fruits and vegetables and a low intake of saturated fat, meats, refined grains, sweets and full fat dairy. All of these nutritional factors characterise a plant-based diet.
Therefore, eating mostly plants is likely to add years to your life and life to your years.