What’s the ultimate benefit of a life lived eating a plant-based diet?

A longer and healthier life.

Isn’t that what we’re all hoping for? A few more years with the grandkids. A few more adventures with our honey. A few more books read (or written!), movies watched (or made!). More of the essence of why weare all here.

And to know we could all get that by making small choices that also help the planet in a major way? No matter what balance sheet you’re looking at, OMD is a pretty good deal.

In a Harvard University study of 130,000 patients over thirty years, researchers found that swapping just 3 percent of your animal protein for plant protein — 3 percent! — dramatically reduces your risk of death. The researchers found:

If you swap 3 percent of your unprocessed red meat for plant protein, you’re 12 percent less likely to die.

If you swap 3 percent of your egg protein for plant protein, you’re 19 percent less likely to die.

If you swap 3 percent of your processed red meat for plant protein, you’re 34 percent less likely to die.

They found that eating more plant-based foods could protect you from dying early even if (especially if) you smoke, drink every day, are overweight or obese and/or are sedentary. Although I’m certainly not telling you to start smoking or sitting around all day! But if you’re going to give up one life-shortening habit, your odds seem to get a bit better when you make it meat.

We lengthen and shorten our lives in a million ways, large and small, throughout every day. We might cuss and fume at rush-hour traffic, or we use the time to listen to a book on tape. We might choose to stand far away from, or right next to, the exhaust of a city bus. We might opt to watch television from the treadmill or the elliptical instead of the couch.

Every meal is also a chance to choose. Will you choose more inflammation, or less? More endotoxins, or less?

More cancer-fighting, heart-and-brain-protecting, microbiome-feeding fiber and polyphenols, or less?

In essence, every single meal is a new chance to choose a shorter life, or a longer one. Repeated day after day, these small choices become your destiny.

Thirty years ago, we learned from Dr. Dean Ornish that what we ate could reverse heart disease. Now, thirty years later, Dr. Ornish and his esteemed colleagues, including Nobel laureate Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, are on the cusp of proving that what we eat can extend our lives, starting on a genetic level.

You may have heard of telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes that guard against damage. When we’re young, these telomeres are long, but they gradually get worn down over the course of our lives. Shorter telomeres are associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, dementia, and cancer — and shorter lives. We used to think a telomere was like a wick of a candle — burn them down, and they’re gone. But it turns out there’s an enzyme called telomerase that helps extend and regrow telomeres. Now the only question for Dr. Ornish and his team was, how do you increase telomerase?

With funding from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Ornish conducted a small, five-year pilot study to answer that question. Can we increase the amount of telomerase in our cells, and thereby lengthen the life span of our chromosomes, just from the choices we make?

For five years, a group of 10 men in their sixties followed Dr. Ornish’s program: 30 minutes of exercise a day, one hour of yoga and meditation a day, one session of group therapy once a week, and — of course — a whole-food, plant-based diet.

A control group of 25 just went along with their normal lives.

After five years, those guys who’d just gone along with their normal regimes showed a predictable sign of “aging” — their telomeres were now 3 percent shorter than they’d been at the start of the study.

But the test group?

In the men who followed the program, their telomeres were 10 percent longer than they’d been five years before. That’s right — they appeared to not only have stopped their body’s aging; they’d turned the clock back. The “aging” process that had previously been presumed to be unavoidable, a one-way street to a literal dead end, was now looking like a largely optional, totally reversible process — much like heart disease had seemed thirty years before.

The best finding of the study? We don’t have to wait five years to see those kinds of results. After only three months on the program, the men’s bodies were starting to produce significantly more telomerase. Dr. Ornishand his colleagues were able to watch this reverse-aging in real time.

In a way, we have already known the punch line to this study. Plant-based people live longer, full stop. An analysis of six large studies on hundreds of thousands of people, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2003, had already found that living as a vegetarian for 17 years would extend your life span by 3.6 years. Still, it can be very comforting (and motivating) to know what our chromosomes are up to when we’re feeding them all this yummy food.

So what do you think: How will you spend your extra time on this big beautiful planet? Mother Nature is kicking out all this bounty to make sure we can stick around a little longer — the least we can do is take her up on the offer, and help her out in the process.

Copyright © 2018 by Editorial Holding, LLC from OMD: The Simple, Plant-Based program to Save Your Health, Save Your Waistline, and Save the Planet by Suzy Amis Cameron, published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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