Sperling Prostate Center

Long Life: Single Healthy Ingredients or Overall Healthy Eating?

Here’s something to think about: many studies on healthy foods focus on only one component at a time. For instance, if you want to know if coffee is healthy, you can find many research articles just on coffee. Similarly, if you were curious about soy protein, you’ll have no trouble getting specific information. Etc., etc.

That approach may help our understanding of which foods are healthier than others. However, it can be misleading in terms of total health effect when we start combining one food with others. As Shan, et al. (2022) point out, “… humans do not consume isolated nutrients or single foods but rather a wide variety of foods with combinations of nutrients and phytochemicals that may have additive and synergistic effects.”[i] In other words, there may be interactions among the various products you eat such that there are unanticipated consequences. Your nutrition may not be well-balanced; your body may not be getting all the nutritive benefits you expect. Thus, dietary research has more recently shifted from examining individual foods to overall healthy eating patterns.

Another consideration is differences among personal characteristics. Will some dietary patterns work better for some racial or ethnic groups than others? Therefore, taking into account population differences, the Shan team explored the associations between total and cause specific mortality, and four dietary patterns considered to be healthy:

The cohort used for the data consisted of 75,230 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 44,085 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Both data sets included detailed dietary information obtained from questionnaires administered at various time points in the studies. In other words, there was a huge amount of statistical dietary data available to the Shan team. In addition, because both studies spanned decades of follow-up (average 36 years), illness and death records were also available. This allowed the researchers to analyze which eating patterns were linked with death from any cause, and deaths from specific causes (cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease/lung cancer, and neurodegenerative disease).

It should not come as a surprise that greater adherence to any of the four patterns listed above resulted in lower mortality rates in general, and lower disease-specific mortality. The AMED score and AHEI were linked with lower risk of mortality caused by neurodegenerative disease. Most importantly, the findings were consistent regardless of gender, race and ethnicity.

The study population was diverse in many respects, though minority groups were only a small percentage of the whole. Given that participants were members of medical professions, the entire group was not representative of society at large, and may have included a bias toward healthier eating patterns than the general U.S. population. Even so, this study is instructive and one that each of us can take to heart. Ask yourself, what is my overall eating pattern? I have included links to the above four dietary plans so you can investigate them for yourself, and compare how you currently eat with each of them.

Clearly, for a long and healthy life, don’t just focus on specific foods and food products. Instead, take a look at your overall eating style—and aim for high health scores.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Shan Z, Wang F, Li Y, et al. Healthy Eating Patterns and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 09, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.6117


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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