The most modifiable predictor of a long, healthy life in FHILL's long-lived cultures was found to be diet (a plant-based Mediterranean diet that included fish). Cognitive function (memory), Activities of Daily Living (ADL score), and general health status were also correlated with long life. In fact, memory score had the greatest ability to reduce risk of death, however it's not thought to be as modifiable as diet.
Exercise and social activity were not found to predict long life in this cohort.
In this post I'll address the question, "What particular aspect of diet is best correlated to long life?"
Food intake data (at baseline), and mortality data (up to 7 years later) was collected on 5 long-lived groups (785 participants) in the FHILL study:1
The 5 cohorts were the same as the previous post:
- Swedes in Sweden
- Greeks in Greece
- Greeks in Australia
- Anglo-Celts in Australia
- Japanese in Japan
- Fruits and nuts
- Milk and dairy products
- Cereals and potatoes
- Fish and shellfish
- Meat and meat products
- Monounsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio
"Only for legume intake was the result plausible, consistent and statistically significant across collective FHILL cohorts’ data. There is a 7% - 8% reduction in mortality hazard ratio for every 20g increase in daily legume intake."(20 grams is about 3/4 of an ounce.)
In case you're curious, Greeks living in Australia ate the most beans, with Japanese a close second. Greeks living in Australia were also the group from the previous study who had the lowest risk of death.
Legume examples: Japanese consume beans as soy, tofu, natto, and miso. Swedes eat brown beans and peas. Mediterraneans eat lentils, chickpeas, and white beans.
One other finding of note: The less saturated fat eaten, the lower the risk of death:
"The monounsaturated:saturated fat ratio was associated with a 46% decrease in the hazard of death for every unit increase. This ratio was a significant predictor of mortality only when ethnic background was included as a confounding factor. Thus higher monounsaturated:saturated fat ratio (as reflected in intake of olive oil in the Mediterranean cultures) appeared to be protective against premature death irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds."
To cap: When researchers looked at long-lived cultures, diet emerged as the most important modifiable predictor of a long life, more important than exercise or social activity. When they looked at diet, beans emerged as the most important food.
I've never been a big bean eater, but these studies are changing that.
Update: See "What Predicts Survival In Long-Lived Cultures? (Part 1 of 2)" here.
I really enjoy looking for photos to accompany my posts. I see so much, learn so much. For this post I was looking for something that represented food from around the world. Peter Menzel's "Hungry Planet" photos kept coming up, but since he's adamant that his photos not be shared I decided to look elsewhere. I'm glad I did because when I saw this photo of a supermarket (from IBM, no less), I was floored. This is how Americans gets their food. This is why Americans are battling chronic diseases. This photo says so much. And the post it links to, from SmartMoney.com, "Top 5ive Supermarket Tricks," describes the extent to which food retailers will go to hawk their unhealthful wares to unsuspecting customers. It makes me feel dirty walking into these stores anymore.