Want to live longer? Eating healthy may be more important than weight loss

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A new study has found that a healthy diet is more important than your weight when it comes to risk of death.

By Rosie Saunders

It is well-established that being overweight puts you at higher risk of several illnesses, from cancers to type 2 diabetes – and yet, when it comes to living longer, what you eat may be more important than how much you weigh.

Research has previously shown that those with a high body mass index (BMI) are at a greater risk of death than those with a lower BMI. High BMI accounts for more than four million deaths annually.

However, a large new study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, has found that people who are obese can reduce their mortality risk to the same level as people with a lower BMI by simply following a healthier Mediterranean-style diet.

The study, led by Dr Karl Michaëlsson, a researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, followed nearly 80,000 people over 20 years to observe the link between BMI, diet and mortality.

For the purposes of the study, a Mediterranean-style diet refers to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, unrefined or high-fibre grains, fermented dairy products, fish and olive or rapeseed oil. Alcohol and red meat were also kept to a minimum.

Researchers found that people who were overweight but followed a Mediterranean-like diet were the least likely to die, and obese individuals who adhered to a Mediterranean diet were no more likely to die than those with a “normal” BMI and healthy diets.

By contrast, study participants with a normal BMI who had unhealthy diets had a higher risk of death than those with moderate weight but followed a healthier diet.

“These results indicate that adherence to healthy diets such as a Mediterranean-like diet may be a more appropriate focus than avoidance of obesity for the prevention of overall mortality,” the study authors concluded. “Nonetheless, a healthy diet may not completely counter higher mortality related with obesity.

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