A Mediterranean Diet Could Add 10 Years to Your Life (This Nifty Calculator Proves It)

A new study finds that someone changing their diet at age 20 could add 10 years to their life — with similar gains across all age groups.

A father and a son cook fresh vegetables in olive oil in a kitchen
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If you’re looking for the fountain of youth, you may be out of luck, but changing your diet might be the next best thing.

A new study, published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal, PLOS Medicine, asserts that switching to a more Mediterranean-esque diet might be the ticket.

A team of researchers led by Lars Fadnes of the University of Bergen, Norway, found that a young adult can potentially add more than 10 years to their life span by eating more legumes, whole grains, and nuts and decreasing consumption of both red meat and processed meat.

For the study, the research team used data collected in the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Diseases 2019 study to create a calculator that adjusts life expectancy based on a number of dietary factors. They discovered that changing your diet at age 20 could add nearly years to your life for women and 13 years for men. Waiting to make the leap until age 60 still had significant life-lengthening benefits—up to 8.8 years.

“Food is fundamental for health, and global dietary risk factors are estimated to cause 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years annually,” Fadnes told The Daily Beast. “Understanding the health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains.”

The addition of legumes, which are high in several nutrients including fiber, proteins, B-vitamins, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, paves the way to a longer life span, and legumes are customary in areas with higher life expectancies, according to Fadnes and his team. Whole grains and nuts, which share many of the same nutritional characteristics, are also high on the list of common foods in areas with higher than average life spans, including Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Icaria, Greece.

Western diets, like the ones we’ve been so reluctant to move past here in the U.S., are traditionally laden with highly processed foods, red meat, sugary drinks and sodas, and processed meats. They also typically don’t meet the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. Our preferred cooking methods, like frying and barbecuing, can also lead to the development of harmful compounds in what would otherwise be healthy food.

The study comes at a time when others have confirmed that ultra-processed foods make up nearly 70 percent of the diet of kids.

The research team has made the calculator available for public use. The utility, called Food for Healthy Life, allows users to plug in their age and diet information and get a ballpark estimate on their life span both before and after dietary changes.

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