After spending 23+ years as a hospital ICU dietitian, I’m well aware that modern science can keep people alive for long periods of time. But quality of life is what matters to me. How about you?

New research suggests that the risk of mortality in adults aged 50 to 71 is lower when a diet lower in saturated fats and certain carbohydrates is followed. This is right in my wheelhouse!

Results from the Journal of Internal Medicine were just published this week. Researchers followed over 371,000 adults aged 50 to 71. Within an average of 23 ½ years of follow-up, there were 165,698 deaths. The study subjects who at the most healthy, low-fat diets compared to their peers, had 18% fewer deaths from any cause. This included 16% fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease and 18% less from cancers.

Healthy, low-fat diets were limited in saturated fat and contained high amounts of plant-based protein and high-quality carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, and whole grains.

In addition, researchers noted that substituting 3% of total calories from poor-quality carbohydrates and saturated fat with more nutritious macronutrients including high-quality carbohydrates, plant protein, animal protein, and unsaturated fat was linked with a much lower total and cause-specific mortality.

More nutritious low-carbohydrate diets were also linked with slightly lower death rates, according to the researchers. These lower mortality risk benefits were not observed in those who ate overall low-carbohydrate diets or unhealthy low-carbohydrate diets. Subjects in this category had significantly higher total, cardiovascular and cancer death rates.

“Our results suggest that a healthy low-fat diet with minimal saturated fat intake would be an effective dietary strategy for healthy aging among middle-aged and older people,” the researchers concluded.

Below are 10 tips to subtract saturated fat and add in the good stuff:

  • Skip the bacon and sausage at breakfast. Try a side of black beans and salsa with eggs.
  • Switch to whole-grain pasta and pass on the refined stuff. It has three times the fiber content.
  • Add more veggies to eggs, soups, salads, and sandwiches. Keep a bag of fresh spinach leaves and include them regularly.
  • Enjoy seasonal fruit for dessert in place of high-fat pastries or ice cream.
  • Go meatless beyond Monday. Make lentil Bolognese or give tofu tacos a try.
  • Substitute plain, non-fat Greek yogurt for sour cream. An old trick, but a good one. You’ll get protein, calcium, and B vitamins and no saturated fat.
  • Use lean ground turkey in place of ground beef. This cuts the saturated fat in half.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products when able.
  • Use olive or canola oil for cooking in place of butter.
  • Keep a variety of unsalted or low-salt nuts on hand for snacks in place of chips or cookies.

Low‐carbohydrate diets, low‐fat diets, and mortality in middle‐aged and older people: A prospective cohort study (wiley.com)

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