Eat More Plants for Longer Life

While we know fruits and vegetables help us thrive, a fresh study in PLOS Medicine underscores the power of plants. Using previous science linking produce consumption to reduced cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality, Norwegian researchers created a model to measure dietary changes on life expectancy. They determined that young men who ate at least five fist-sized servings of produce daily boosted their life expectancy by up to 13 years, and young women gained as many as 10 years. Even data from people in their 60s showed an eight-year increase in lifespan, suggesting it’s never too late to adopt a plant-centric diet. Unfortunately, only a tenth of U.S. adults hit the two fruit/three vegetable daily goal set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Try growing the plant percentages in your diet with these ideas:

• Plan meals in advance. Make conscious decisions to swap animal proteins (meat) for plant proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains and tofu. Boost the plants in your side dishes by sprinkling on nuts and seeds or stirring in chopped vegetables and fresh herbs.

• Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. CSA participants often report an increase in the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables they consume. Keep in mind that nutrition experts advise eating 30 different plants a week to support gut health and immunity. You could also visit one of the Lowcountry’s many local farmers markets.

• Start every meal with a salad, and remember that salads aren’t just limited to lettuce. Aim to incorporate fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts or seeds in your bowl. Not keen on greens for breakfast? Turn to a fruit salad or smoothie instead.

• Store produce within quick reach. Keep a bowl of whole fruit on hand for easy grab-and-go snacking during the day. While you prepare dinner, set out raw veggies like carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes with a healthy dip such as hummus or low-fat ranch.