20 Worst Eating Habits That Are Shaving Years Off Your Life
You are what you eat—and what you're eating can either prolong or decrease your life span. In fact, the majority of Americans are not consuming a nutritionally balanced diet. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than one in ten U.S. adults and adolescents consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables—and about half of adults drink a sugary beverage on a daily basis.
Furthermore, Americans have one of the shortest life expectancies compared to other high-income countries around the globe, stated researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. And one of their studies, which was published in in the journal Circulation, concluded that longevity is tied to five lifestyle factors, diet being one.
Read on to find out the food habits that could be limiting your time. And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest diet and food news delivered straight to your inbox.
You're following a high-protein plan
Research published in the journal Cell Metabolism indicates that middle-aged adults who consume a protein-rich diet may be harming their health as much as those who smoke cigarettes. A high-protein lifestyle (classified as those who obtain at least 20% of their daily calories from any type of protein source) was linked to an increase in cancer and diabetes mortality, and those who eat an abundance of animal-based products (like meat and cheese) are more at risk from an early death regardless of the cause.
However, a moderate- or high-protein diet that's centered around plant-based foods, such as beans and chickpeas, can be beneficial for adults over the age of 65. "The research shows that a low-protein diet in middle age is useful for preventing cancer and overall mortality, through a process that involves regulating [the hormone] IGF-I and possibly insulin levels," said Eileen Crimmins, PhD, co-author of the study and AARP Chair in Gerontology at University of Southern California, in a press release. "However, we also propose that at older ages, it may be important to avoid a low-protein diet to allow the maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty."
Reduces lifespan by: A lot. Middle-aged adults who followed an animal-based, high-protein meal plan were four times more likely to die of cancer and 74% more likely to die from any disease compared to those who consumed a low-protein diet.
You're drinking soda
Yes, you've heard countless times that sugary bubbly beverages are bad for you. But a study published in the journal JAMA International Medicine found that downing soft drinks (both regular and diet) could go as far as shortening your lifespan. A team of international researchers analyzed the data from more than 451,000 European adults during a 16-year period and concluded that drinking two (or more) sodas a day was associated with a heightened risk of total mortality.
Reduces lifespan by: It could be too high for your liking. The press release stated that drinking two or more glasses a day also resulted in a "higher risk" of death from circulatory disease and sipping one serving a day was associated with a "higher risk" of death caused by digestive diseases. Here are 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by How Toxic They Are.
You're focusing on low-carb foods
Keto fans won't be thrilled with this news. A study published in The Lancet Public Health analyzed the carbohydrate intake of more than 15,400 middle-aged U.S. adults over the course of 25 years. The participants who consumed moderate levels of carbs (where 50%-55% of their calories derived from carbohydrates) were the leaders in longevity compared to the ultra-low-carb eaters (30% or less of calorie intake came from carbohydrates) and the somewhat-low carb eaters (30% to 40%).
Reduces lifespan by: Years. The middle-of-the-road group lived four times longer than the ultra-low carb group and two years longer than the slightly-higher low carb group. Is the Keto Diet Safe? These Are the Real Risks and Rewards of Going Ultra-Low Carb.
You're avoiding fat
More proof that fat is your friend! Earlier this year, JAMA Internal Medicine published a report that looked at the eating patterns drawn from dietary surveys of more than 37,000 U.S. adults over the span of 15 years. The people who were the least likely to face premature death followed a diet that consisted or plant proteins, unsaturated fats, and high-quality carbs (meaning veggies, whole grains, and legumes). Yet those who were low-fat (and low-carb) had a lower (and similar) mortality rate.
Reduces lifespan by: About 12% for low-fat dieters who obtain a good portion of their calories from unhealthy sources (like low-fat yogurt, breads, and desserts, which tend to contain higher amounts of sugar than the full-fat versions). Also, diets lacking in "good fats" can deprive the body of certain nutrients since they absorb the four fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K.
You're eating too often
Giving your body a break from food can keep you alive longer. A nearly four-and-a-half-year study published in the journal Circulation focused on life expectancy outcomes of approximately 2,000 people who had undergone a heart procedure (cardiac catheterization). Close to 400 of these participants had been routine fasters—fasting for one day each month—for at least five years, and their long-term prognosis was much better.
Reduces lifespan by: Wow. After 4.4 years, those who regularly fasted had a 45% lower death rate compared to the others in the study group. Learn more about these 5 Science-Backed Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.
You're a meat lover
If you think a T-bone steak goes with nearly everything, you may want to rethink your plate. "The consumption of red meat is linked with health risks, such as the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer, which may lead to a shortened lifespan," says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, nutritionist, adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. A study conducted by University of Eastern Finland that analyzed the mortality rates of middle-aged men found that those who regularly relied on animal products, namely red meat, for protein were unhealthier compared to males who consumed a more balanced ratio of both animal- and plant-proteins.
Reduces lifespan by: Double digits. The men who ate an average of 200 grams of red meat per day had a 23% greater risk of death compared to those who ate less than 100 grams of meat on a daily basis.
You're overloading on eggs
The incredible egg isn't all it's cracked up to be (at least according to some research). A study from Northwestern University that was comprised of nearly 30,000 adults concluded the more eggs in one's diet the higher the likelihood of both death caused by any illness and heart disease. Thanks, cholesterol.
Reduces lifespan by: Those who had a daily intake of 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol (one egg contains an average of 184 milligrams) had an 18% increased risk of mortality, as well as a 17% increased risk of experiencing a cardiovascular episode. Yet, a 32-year study published in the BMJ—which included the health data of approximately 263,700 men and women and a meta-analysis of nearly 1.7 million people—found no association between moderate egg consumption (an egg a day) and risk of cardiovascular disease. And the great egg debate continues!
You've given up coffee
Researchers from South Korea and Harvard TH Chan School of Public say there's no need to break up with your beloved java. After examining the health reports of 3.8 million people, they discovered that drinking coffee can boost lifespan regardless of one's age, overweight status, alcohol drinking, smoking status, and caffeine content of coffee, as stated in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
Reduces lifespan by: Negative numbers. Another study—published in April 2020 in the European Society of Cardiology—concluded that participants (over half a million adults who were followed for nearly 20 years) who enjoyed one to four cups of filtered coffee each day showed the lowest rates in mortality. Women were at a 20% reduced risk of death from heart disease while men showed a 12% reduction. Read more about Coffee or Tea: Which Is Healthier for You?
Your eat a lot of added sugar
"Eating too much added sugar (which includes drinking too many sweetened beverages, like soda) has been linked to a shortened lifespan," Young states. Research published in JAMA International Medicine that spanned 15 years found that the more sugar in your daily diet, the higher the odds of death due to cardiovascular disease. Plus—age, weight, gender, and activity levels were didn't mitigate this effect. "Sugar also contributes unnecessary calories and has been linked with diabetes and obesity," Young says.
Reduces lifespan by: The study subjects who consumed at least 25% of their caloric intake from sugar were more than twice as likely to pass away from cardiovascular disease compared to adults who took in under 10% of added sugars each day. "Fruit sugar, however, is fine," Young adds. So load up on these 50 Low-Sugar Foods Every Healthy Person Eats.
You're using artificial sweeteners
And there's no such thing as a healthy sugar substitute. A study that involved more than 118,000 adults, which was published in the journal Circulation, concluded that artificially sweetened beverages are linked to severe health issues, including premature death. "The optimal intake of these drinks is zero," said Vasanti S. Malik, lead study author and research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "They have no health benefits."
Reduces lifespan by: It's not sweet. Sipping an extra 12-ounces of a sugary drink each day was associated with a 10% increased risk for death due to heart disease, while the mortality rate from drinking beverages made with fake sugar was only slightly lower.
You're eating ultra-processed foods
Enjoying the occasional cold antipasto platter might be good for the spirit, yet consuming pepperoni, salami, and other popular processed meats (bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meats) as well as ready-made meals, packaged desserts, and ice cream as part of your regular diet can speed up the end of your life, according to a study published in JAMA International Medicine.
Reduces lifespan by: About 14%, which is the increased likelihood of death from any illness among those volunteers who ate 10% more of these foods.
You're not using olive oil
According to an eight-year study published in a 2020 journal of Molecular Cell, researchers from University of Minnesota Medical School discovered that the fat in olive oil activates a pathway within the cells connected to increasing longevity, along with preventing age-related diseases.
Reduces lifespan by: It hasn't been determined…yet. Researchers have uncovered theses findings under the microscope, so the next step is to evaluate humans. However, it's been well-reported that the Mediterranean Diet may be key to adding more candles to your birthday cake.
You're drinking alcohol too often
While red wine can offer some health benefits, research published in the journal Cancer indicates that Japanese adults who drink moderately were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer (specifically gastrointestinal, prostate, and breast) compared to those who rarely or never drank.
Reduces lifespan by: A 5% increased cancer risk was found in adults who consumed one alcoholic beverage each day for ten years and adults who drank two glasses a day for five years. Here's What Happens To Your Body If You Drink Alcohol Every Day.
Your meal plan is low in produce
Diets that lack fruits and vegetables can have an impact on longevity, Young says. "Produce contains antioxidants, along with fiber and other nutrients, linked to reducing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and certain cancers." Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association established that a plant-based eating plan may lead to a longer life, as well as higher chance of good cardiovascular health.
Reduces lifespan by: Quite a bit. After assessing the dietary habits of more than 10,000 U.S. adults, the study authors determined that consuming more plant foods reduced the risk of death via cardiovascular disease by 32%—and lowered the risk of dying from other conditions by 25%. Look for these 9 Warning Signs You're Not Eating Enough Vegetables.
Your food choices are lacking in fiber
Whole grains can add years to your life, say medical researchers from University of Otago. A study published in PLOS Medicine that involved data from 8,300 adults living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes found that those who ate more fiber-rich foods (i.e. brown rice, brown pasta, legumes) were less likely to face premature death compared to those who consumed minimal amounts of fiber. The reason? Improved blood glucose levels.
Reduces lifespan by: About 1% for every gram. Those who had a daily fiber intake of 35 grams were shown to decrease their mortality by 35%.
You're not snacking on nuts
A few nuts can go a long way. A 30-year study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School discovered that those who added nuts to their daily regimen lived longer and were less likely to die from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease.
Reduces lifespan by: Years, since nuts were shown to increase life expectancy by about two years. Learn How to Maximize Their Benefits.
You're overloading on sodium
"Eating too much salt has been associated with a shorter lifespan," Young says. "Diets high in sodium are linked to hypertension and heart disease." In fact, a nearly 30-year study published in The Lancet, which compared the heath and eating habits among citizens of 195 countries, concluded that high intake of sodium was one of the top three leading dietary risk factors for death.
Reduces lifespan by: A lot. In 2017, more than half of the deaths examined in this study were attributed to an excess of sodium in the diet. High sodium intake was also behind more than two-thirds of diet-related disability-adjusted life years, which the WHO defines as "loss of the equivalent of one year of full health."
You're consuming acid-forming foods
A paper published on ScienceDirect looked at the association between health and Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL), which determines whether food is acid- or alkaline-forming. Diets high in PRAL (meat, cheese, processed foods) have been associated with metabolic issues, such as diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease. One study of more than 92,000 Japanese patients established a link between high PRAL and mortality.
Reduces lifespan by: A 16% increase in cardiovascular death was found in adults, along with a 13% increase in overall death.
You're not sipping green tea
Researchers from China have evaluated the benefits of tea leaves. "Habitual tea consumption is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death," said Dr. Xinyan Wang, study author from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, in a statement. "The favorable health effects are the most robust for green tea and for long-term habitual tea drinkers."
Reduces lifespan by: A large percentage. The research published in the European Society of Cardiology indicates that individuals who drink tea at least three times a week showed a 29% decrease in overall mortality compared to those who occasionally or never drank tea.
You're eating a diet that's making you gain weight
Consuming too much food in one sitting, and overloading on calories at mealtime is likely to lead to an elevated Body Mass Index (BMI), a measurement that estimates body fat. "Being overweight can shorten lifespan as it is linked to diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases," Young says. "Obesity is primarily caused by eating too much (of the wrong foods!) and moving too little."
Reduces lifespan by: You may want to take a seat. According to one study reported in an article published in the Annals of Translational Medicine, the life expectancy of a severely obese person is decreased anywhere between 5 and 20 years.