The Harvard Diet May Increase Your Chances of Living Longer by 20%

The Harvard Diet May Increase Your Chances of Living Longer by 20%

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The Harvard Diet has been linked with lower rates of cancer, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and death. Afriandi/Getty Images
  • A new study has found that four specific eating plans were all linked to greater longevity.
  • One plan in particular, the Harvard Diet, is gaining attention.
  • It was developed for the study and includes aspects of MyPlate as well as the Mediterranean diet.
  • Nutrition experts say the diet can benefit health in several ways which can lead to a longer life.

When embarking on a healthy eating plan, people may offer up several goals that motivate them, including things like wanting to feel better, losing weight, or living a longer healthier life.

If longevity is among your goals, you may wonder what’s the ideal eating plan that will help you achieve your desire.

Good news, a group of researchers sought to answer this question by studying people who followed one of four different dietary patterns, including the Alternate Mediterranean Diet, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate), the Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index, and the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (also known as the “Harvard Diet”).

The researchers found that people who followed any of these diets were 20% less likely to die during the 36-year study. They also had lower rates of cancer, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease.

However, one of these nutritional plans, which was developed specifically for the study, has particularly garnered attention from the public: the Harvard Diet.

Samantha Coogan — who is program director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition & Dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — said the Harvard Diet, or Healthy Eating Plate, is almost identical to MyPlate, which was developed by the USDA in June 2011.

However, there are a few important differences.

“Both concepts recommend 1/2 of your plate/meal serving should consist of fruits/vegetables, 1/4 from whole grains, and 1/4 from proteins. The symbols are nearly identical,” said Coogan.

The difference is that the Harvard Diet advises a larger proportion of vegetables versus fruit than MyPlate does.

Another key difference between the two is in their fat and dairy recommendations. MyPlate recommends a serving of dairy with each meal, but the Harvard Diet suggests replacing that dairy with beverages like water, coffee, or tea.

“Researchers at Harvard came to this conclusion due to a higher prevalence of lactose intolerance in the U.S.,” explained Coogan. “In addition, they promote avoiding sugary beverages in general, and limiting milk/dairy beverages to 1-2 servings per day.”

Coogan notes, however, that MyPlate does include information about non-dairy sources of calcium for those who are lactose intolerant. It’s just promoted in a different way.

Another important difference between the plans, according to Coogan, is that the Harvard Diet advises moderate amounts of healthy fats — in the form of plant oils, such as olive, canola, soy, peanut, corn, and sunflower oils — and avoids trans fats.

Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said there are “a ton of benefits” associated with the Harvard Diet.

“Several benefits include lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension,” said Hardie. “Weight loss could also be an added benefit of this diet.”

Hardie said these benefits occur because this way of eating is low in processed foods and saturated fats, with have both been linked to an increased risk for these conditions.

Additionally, it is using the MyPlate method in combination with the Mediterranean diet in order to create healthy eating habits that people are able to maintain.

Hardie noted, however, that the word “diet” may be a bit of a misnomer.

“The word ‘diet’ has such a bad rap and often leads people to think it’s a fad for quick weight loss,” she said. “This ‘Harvard Diet’ is using the MyPlate method in combination with the Mediterranean diet to create healthy eating habits.”

Sharon Palmer — registered dietitian, author, and blogger at The Plant-Powered Dietitian — noted that this way of eating is also filled with healthful carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and phytochemicals in addition to being lower in cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium.

“These are the essentials for a healthy eating plan that promotes optimal health,” explained Palmer.

Palmer said, “I am a fan of this diet plan, because it’s common sense, it’s based on the research that has been pouring in over the past couple of decades, and is easy to follow.

“It’s also a diet plan that is better for the planet,” she added.

Hardie is in agreement with Palmer.

“This is an excellent way of eating,” she said. However, she notes that it would be more beneficial to not think of it as a diet, but rather a technique for creating healthy eating habits.

Coogan said she likes it because it falls closely in line with MyPlate and its updated dairy recommendations “make sense.”

“I like that it doesn’t demonize dairy, but offers a lower intake,” she explained.

Another aspect of the Harvard Diet that she likes is that it specifies quality over quantity when it comes to carbohydrates.

Most importantly, added Coogan, these concepts can be adopted regardless of your budget.

“So whether you shop at Walmart, a food pantry, Sprouts or Whole Foods, we can all adopt a healthier lifestyle that is unique to our situations.”