UK study finds that eating whole grains and nuts could add 10 years to your life

Mediterranean diet, which focuses on such foods, has been extensively studied and shown to have numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular problems. Picture: Pexels/Askar Abayev

Mediterranean diet, which focuses on such foods, has been extensively studied and shown to have numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular problems. Picture: Pexels/Askar Abayev

Published Nov 29, 2023


The adage “food is medicine” speaks to the idea that proper nutrition is a crucial factor in maintaining health and preventing diseases, which translates to a long and healthy life.

This viewpoint is supported by a multitude of scientific research and is commonly hailed by health experts due to the profound impact that diet and nutrition have on overall well-being.

One of the key reasons why eating is hailed by experts is the essential role that nutrients play in the functioning of the human body.

A well-balanced diet provides the necessary vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that are vital for various physiological processes.

For example, vitamin C is essential for your immune function, while calcium is crucial for bone health. By consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods, individuals can support bodily functions and reduce the risk of various illnesses.

Moreover, food can be a powerful tool in disease prevention and management. Certain foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and other compounds that have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

With the rise of chronic diseases and the increasing recognition of the impact of lifestyle choices on health, the role of food in preventing and managing illnesses has become increasingly important.

The findings of a recent study published in Nature Food shed light on the potential impact dietary changes may have on life expectancy.

Researchers analysed data from UK Biobank, a comprehensive biomedical database that includes information on 467 354 participants, to estimate the impact of lifestyle choices.

The findings revealed that individuals in their 40s, who transitioned from an unhealthy diet to a longevity-associated diet, could potentially extend their life expectancy by approximately 10 years.

Interestingly, the study also noted gender differences, with women experiencing an additional 10.8 years of life and men gaining 10.4 years through this dietary shift.

Moreover, even people who switched from an average diet (as opposed to an explicitly unhealthy one) to a longevity-associated diet could still expect notable benefits.

Women in their 40s, for instance, could increase their life expectancy by 3.1 years, while men could extend theirs by 3.4 years. Those in their 70s who made the same dietary changes could potentially add around five years to their life expectancy.

These findings show the significant role that diet plays in determining life expectancy and highlight the potential for positive changes at any age.

By making conscious choices to adopt a longevity-associated diet, people may enhance their overall health and increase their chances of living longer, healthier lives.

According to the authors of the “Life expectancy can increase by up to 10 years following sustained shifts towards healthier diets in the United Kingdom” study, making changes in our food choices can have a significant impact on life expectancy.

They suggest that estimating these changes can be valuable for policy-making, guidance, and interventions to improve public health.

Stats SA's recent report, "Non-communicable diseases: Findings from death notifications (2008-2018)", provides insight into the state of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Africa.

The report highlights key trends and insights, revealing that deaths caused by major NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory diseases have increased by 58.7% over the past 20 years, from 103,428 in 1997 to 164,205 in 2018.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has observed a significant rise in NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and cancers.

These diseases contribute significantly to illness and death worldwide. And it is because of things like urbanisation, sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, smoking, and increasing obesity rates that have contributed to this alarming trend.

In South Africa, heart diseases claim the lives of 225 individuals every day, while a stroke occurs every hour, as reported by The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.

To improve life expectancy, it is recommended to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats, while increasing the intake of whole grains and nuts.

For instance, the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on such foods, has been extensively studied and shown to have numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular problems and a decreased likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, a healthy diet can positively impact mental health. Research suggests that there is a strong link between diet and mental well-being, with certain nutrients and dietary patterns being associated with a lower risk of depression and anxiety.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and certain seeds, have been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, while a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of developing mental health disorders.

Proper nutrition ensures that the body receives the fuel it needs to function optimally, whether in daily activities or during physical exercise.

Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet can reduce the risk of obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

The Mediterranean diet is renowned for its fresh, whole foods, and healthful fats. It typically includes a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and moderate amounts of fish, poultry and dairy.

Herbs and spices are commonly used to add flavour to dishes, while red meat and processed foods are limited. Here's a simple and delicious recipe for a Mediterranean-inspired salad that embraces the key principles of this diet:

Mediterranean chickpea salad

Picture: The Mediterranean Dish/screenshot, Chickpea salad


1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 English cucumber, diced

1/4 red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

This vibrant Mediterranean chickpea salad is a simple yet satisfying dish that can be enjoyed as a light lunch or as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken.

This recipe is inspired by and adapted from "The Mediterranean Dish" a popular website dedicated to sharing Mediterranean-inspired recipes and promoting the healthful and flavourful aspects of the Mediterranean diet.

The creator of this recipe, Suzy Karadsheh, is a passionate advocate for Mediterranean cuisine and its numerous health benefits.

Professor Gunter Kuhnle, a nutritional scientist at the University of Reading, England, who was not involved in the research, told Business Insider: “The findings are in keeping with the known evidence about the types of diets that lead to longer, healthier lives in individuals.”