If you’re young and live in the United States, there’s a way to live longer: Simply eat healthier.

Sounds so simple.

A new study, published in PLOS Medicine, found that young adults in the United States could increase their life expectancy by more than a decade if they include more legumes, whole grains and nuts in their diet, and include less red and processed meat.

Lead researcher, Lars Fadnes M.D., and a professor in the department of global public health and primary care at the University of Bergen in Norway, found women, starting at age 20, could increase their life expectancy by 10.7 years and men, starting at age 20, by 13 years, if they switched from a typical diet to the optimized diet that included the legumes, whole grains and nuts and less red and processed meat.

If men and women waited until they were 80, they could still increase life expectancy by 3.4 years. Adopting the healthier diet at age 60 would increase life expectancy by an estimated 8 years for women and 8.8 years for men.

I find that amazing (and I preach and teach healthy eating all the time). But I’m still taken aback sometimes at what a difference choosing healthy foods can make.

Researchers used a model to estimate the impact that sustained dietary changes may have on life expectancy using meta-analyses and data from the 2019 Global Burden of Diseases study. Legumes, whole grains and nuts (and eating less red or processed meat) gave the biggest gains in life expectancy over fruits and vegetables because researchers said many people were eating fruits and vegetables already and reaping benefits.

The bottom line? You can’t go wrong with adding more legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables to your daily diet.


Q: What are the benefits of plant-based eating?

A: First of all, think of this as plant-forward eating rather than the absence of meat in your diet.

Instead of thinking of meat as the star of a meal plan, think of it as an accent, or supporting role. Make small adjustments in modest amounts — substituting beans for beef or chicken.

Much research has been done on diets that are predominantly plant based, especially the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet and the MIND diet. Plant-based eating patterns have shown improved health outcomes, including lower levels of obesity, reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.

Also, plant-based meals can be lower in fat and offer fewer overall calories. They also typically have more fiber, potassium and vitamin C, which are all beneficial to heart health and digestion.

Simple Vegetarian Taco Soup

As we try to eat a more plant-forward diet, here’s a simple vegetarian taco soup that’s delicious. It includes canned beans to boost the protein. A 15-ounce can of pinto beans has more than 19 grams of protein. Use no-salt-added canned beans when possible or drain and rinse the beans to lower the sodium.

The recipe is adapted from Hy-Vee Seasons magazine.


» 3 cups water

» 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added whole kernel golden corn, drained

» 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added chili-style beans in chili gravy

» 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, drained and rinsed

» 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, drained and rinsed

» 1 (10-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes and green chiles

» 1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce

» 1 (1.25-ounce) package low-sodium taco seasoning mix

For garnish: queso fresco, fresh cilantro, tortilla chips, lime wedges


Combine water, corn, chili beans in gravy, pinto and black beans, undrained tomatoes and chiles, tomato sauce and taco seasoning mix in a large saucepan or slow cooker. If using a saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce heat. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. If using a slow cooker, place all ingredients in slow cooker. Start on high heat for 1 hour, then reduce to low heat for 4-6 hours. To serve, ladle soup in to serving bowls. Garnish with cheese and cilantro, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips and lime wedges.


Serves 8 (1 cup each)

Per serving: 210 calories; 11 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated); 0 grams cholesterol; 9 grams fiber; 7 grams sugar (0 grams added); 250 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.