Low and behold, there is a diet proven to increase longevity and improve quality of life. Researchers from Vanderbilt University published a study in the journal PLOS Medicine revealing the life-saving potential in following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). After following the diets of thousands of low-income African-Americans, it became clear the closer they stuck to the guidelines, the lower their risk of death became.

The research team evaluated data from the Southern Community Cohort Study, which included 84,735 American adults between the ages of 40 and 79 years old. The participants resided in the 12 most southeastern U.S. states in low-income homes between the years 2002 and 2009. Of the participants, 65 percent of them were African-American. Most of the participants followed up with researchers every 6.2 years on average.

"This is the first study to our knowledge reporting this association in a low-income population that largely comprises African-Americans, providing direct evidence for disease prevention through dietary modification in this underserved population," the study’s lead author Dr. Wei Zheng and colleagues wrote.

Those who strayed from the guidelines had a 20 percent increased risk of death than those who followed the closest by eating healthy. It’s difficult to eat healthily as a low-income American because of the lack of healthful options due to financial constraints and grocery store options. By improving their diets, the need for costly medications lowered significantly, saving costs in the long-term. The death rate reduction specifically stripped away risk from rates of disease and death from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the number one killer for Americans of all races, but for African-Americans, the risk is even greater, according to the American Heart Association.

You can’t do anything about your family history, which may be riddled with risk if you’re African-American; however, you can control your blood pressure and blood glucose levels with diet and exercise. A diet low in sodium and high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure without medication intervention. Lower your risk of diabetes by incorporating plenty of the same fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and throw in some beans, lean meats, poultry, and fish. Exercise also helps to manage your blood-glucose levels, along with your overall health.

There are plenty of food recommendations, portion sizes, and recipes Americans can explore in order to keep their health in tip-top shape. The guidelines have been published every five years in a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 1980. A new Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is appointed for each new edition by a panel of nationally recognized experts in the field of nutrition and health.

The diet outlines the study participants followed are not the ones currently recommended, but an outdated version. This doesn’t mean they weren’t sustainable diets, but newer and improved recommendations were made to reflect the current needs of Americans. The following diet is provided by the USDA’s 2010 guideline’s ChooseMyPlate based on the breakdown for an active female between 19 and 30 years old.

Daily Death Rate-Lowering Diet:

  1. 2,000 calories (additional 260 empty calories)
  2. 3 to 6 ounces of whole grains
  3. 2.5 cups of veggies (Vary between dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, and starchy veggies each day of the week)
  4. 2 cups of fruits (Vary between whole and cut up fruit more often than drinking fruit juice)
  5. 3 cups of dairy (Drink fat-free or 1 percent milk. Consume fat-free or low-fat cheese, yogurt, or calcium-fortified soy products)
  6. 5.5 ounces of protein (Consume seafood twice a week and vary between veggie-only and lean meat and protein days)

Source: Zheng W, Danxia Y, Sonderman J, et al. Healthy Eating and Risks of Total and Cause-Specific Death among Low-Income Populations of African-Americans and Other Adults in the Southeastern University States. A Prospective Cohort Study. PLOS Medicine. 2015.