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Shifting Diets Towards Longevity. Lessons from the UK for Singapore and the World

Updated: Apr 20

Longevity diet Singapore UK

The UK has some notoriously bad eating practices. What in the US and nutrition dialogue is called the Standard American Diet - SAD - in the UK would be called the Standard UK Diet - SUKD. Both acronyms are telling. Understanding the latest UK research, shifting diets toward longevity, could provide some valuable lessons not only for us in Singapore but also for the rest of the world.


Despite both the UK and US having well established dietary recommendations very few people have actually followed them over the last decades. Most people have enjoyed increasing amounts of processed foods, rich in refined carbohydrates and oils, rather than the whole food recommendations. In the UK less than 0.1% of people now meet the criteria for eating a healthy diet – as described by the National Health Service’s Eatwell Guide.


Unfortunately, the UK and the US are not the only countries where people are not following the guidelines, poor eating practices in developed societies – including Singapore - are a well-established phenomenon. And one repeated by developing societies as they move away from whole food predominant diets to those high in processed foods.


As ever, please talk to your doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your medical history before implementing any changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment. Links to any supporting studies or resources are shared at the end of page.

 

A new paper from the UK has researched national eating patterns using data from the long running and extensive Biobank study, comprising almost half a million participants. Dietary data was split into quintiles, looking at hazard ratios for mortality based on highest or lowest adherence to the dietary guidelines. The data was adjusted for potential confounders as well as body mass index (BMI) and energy intake.


The study showed that the unhealthiest diets contained no or limited amounts of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, milk and dairy, and white meat. They had substantial amounts of processed meat, eggs, refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meat were especially associated with mortality, death.


The dietary pattern most associated with longevity had moderate intakes of whole grains, fruit, fish and white meat; a high intake of milk and dairy, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Conversely this pattern had relatively low intake of eggs, red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages and a low intake of refined grains and processed meat. Consumption of whole grains and nuts were best associated with long life.


Diet longevity food groups

Data are presented as hazard ratios and their 95% confidence intervals. The reference groups were the lowest quintile of intake for each food group. The analyses were adjusted for age, sex, area-based socio-demographic deprivation, smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity level.


The unhealthy categories are shown in red, the longevity associated are shown in green and dark green, and the Eatwell recommendations are shown in blue. The dark green category had large uncertainties; thus, the robust version of the healthiest dietary patterns is in green (not dark green).


The researchers then modelled how making changes to existing dietary patterns (generally poor) could improve life expectancy. They calculated that making positive dietary changes in midlife could alter life expectancy. For those with ‘normal’ (median) eating practices gaining an additional 4 years at end of life and those with the worst eating practices up to 10 years! Starting sooner is better than starting later, but even making changes at age 70 it is possible to gain a few years.

 

The UK has its own eating practices and this study mainly looked at a white population. Notwithstanding, any population eating in a similar way will likely face similar issues. When it comes to Asian populations, such as in multi-ethnic Singapore, we know that differences in BMI exacerbate chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.


If you want to live long, be mindful of what you eat. Focus on whole foods, a plant forward diet (in keeping with traditional Asian eating practices) and eat your whole grains and legumes. By all means include 'white meat' or fish, a little red meat, if that is what you enjoy. Avoid soft or sugary drinks.


If you want to maximise health and ultimately your healthspan, exercise is essential: strength and cardio. Sleep well and minimise stress. This is whole health living.


Stay Healthy,


Alastair

 
healthy diet longevity


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Your health, physical – mental – social - is complex and affected by multiple factors within and outside of your control. Our consults and programmes address the whole person, the root causes of ill health and maximising your health, performance & vitality. Longevity and lifestyle medicine is an area that has always been of interest to us and our clients.


Take the first step. Contact us to arrange an introductory call, to discuss how we can support your journey to health. We are based in Singapore and work with clients globally.


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The UK Study


Fadnes LT, Celis-Morales C, Økland JM, Parra-Soto S, Livingstone KM, Ho FK, Pell JP, Balakrishna R, Javadi Arjmand E, Johansson KA, Haaland ØA, Mathers JC. Life expectancy can increase by up to 10 years following sustained shifts towards healthier diets in the United Kingdom. Nat Food. 2023 Nov;4(11):961-965. doi: 10.1038/s43016-023-00868-w. Epub 2023 Nov 20. PMID: 37985698; PMCID: PMC10661734.


Related Studies


Cordova R, Viallon V, Fontvieille E, Peruchet-Noray L, Jansana A, Wagner KH, Kyrø C, Tjønneland A, Katzke V, Bajracharya R, Schulze MB, Masala G, Sieri S, Panico S, Ricceri F, Tumino R, Boer JMA, Verschuren WMM, van der Schouw YT, Jakszyn P, Redondo-Sánchez D, Amiano P, Huerta JM, Guevara M, Borné Y, Sonestedt E, Tsilidis KK, Millett C, Heath AK, Aglago EK, Aune D, Gunter MJ, Ferrari P, Huybrechts I, Freisling H. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and risk of multimorbidity of cancer and cardiometabolic diseases: a multinational cohort study. Lancet Reg Health Eur. 2023 Nov 14;35:100771. doi: 10.1016/j.lanepe.2023.100771. PMID: 38115963; PMCID: PMC10730313.


Tay ME, Foster E, Stevenson L, Brownlee I. The Adherence of Singaporean Students in Different Educational Institutions to National Food-Based Dietary Guidelines. Nutrients. 2020 Sep 30;12(10):2995. doi: 10.3390/nu12102995. PMID: 33007838; PMCID: PMC7601534.


Scheelbeek P, Green R, Papier K, Knuppel A, Alae-Carew C, Balkwill A, Key TJ, Beral V, Dangour AD. Health impacts and environmental footprints of diets that meet the Eatwell Guide recommendations: analyses of multiple UK studies. BMJ Open. 2020 Aug 26;10(8):e037554. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-037554. PMID: 32847945; PMCID: PMC7451532.


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Process to Update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Redesigning the Process for Establishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Nov 16. 2, Role and Purposes of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Evaluation and Findings.


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