Black women who followed the DASH Diet followed DASH had the lowest levels of mortality. (Photo: Getty Images)

Black women who followed the DASH Diet followed DASH had the lowest levels of mortality. (Photo: Getty Images)

Two new studies that looked at the longevity benefits of eating a nutritious, balanced diet found that following certain healthy eating plans can greatly reduce your chances of developing a number of life-threatening illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.

In research focused exclusively on black women, the scientists at the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) analyzed the eating habits of 37,001 women, ages 30 to 69, from 1995 to 2011. The women were free of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes at the beginning of the study. The study participants were observed to see how closely they followed the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension or DASH Diet.

At the 16-year mark, 1,678 of the women had died. An analysis of the study data found that those who followed DASH had the lowest levels of mortality from all causes during the 16-year period. The DASH diet components that were most strongly related to living longer were a high intake of whole grains and a low intake of red and processed meats like cold cuts.

Mediterranean Diet Even More Effective

The second, unrelated study was conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the University of California and other institutions. A large number of African-American women were included in the study sample of more than 200,000 people. The research team followed the group for 13 to 18 years.

Food PyramidThe women in the group who closely followed the DASH diet also had a much lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer, confirming the results of the BWHS research. In addition, those who primarily followed the Mediterranean Diet had even better results. They were less likely to die from a range of illnesses, but the diet was most effective in protecting people from cancer. Other research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet may also protect some people from depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s.

Variety, Not Calorie Restriction is Key

While both the DASH and Mediterranean plans are called diets, they are really healthy eating plans that include a wide variety of delicious foods. Backed by years of research, each plan emphasizes fresh ingredients, low levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat and moderate portion control.

The DASH program includes all fruits, vegetables, meats, grains and low-fat dairy products, but it’s slightly more restrictive than the Mediterranean plan because it severely limits salt intake.

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes fresh fish, lean meats, fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, healthy fats (such as olive oil), nuts, dairy (especially yogurt) and includes treats like an occasional glass of red wine or a little dark chocolate. The plan suggests using fresh herbs instead of salt whenever possible and eating primarily plant-based foods.

Learn more about each plan and decide what works for you here:

▪ The Mediterranean diet       ▪ The DASH Diet

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