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A massive international study of health, longevity, and diseases in 188 countries around the world has found that people are generally living longer, with the global life expectancy having risen by more than six years since 1990.
According to data that’s just been released from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, global life expectancy at birth for both sexes has risen to 71.5 years of age, up 6.2 years from 65.3 years of age in 1990. The main reasons for our longer lifespans are major advances made in fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria over the past decade, along with progress in managing communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional
 disorders.
Numerous studies show that Japan ranks among the nations with the greatest life expectancy in the world, and while the factors that contribute to longevity are complex, we all know that a healthy diet can play a fundamental role in helping people reach old age. Now a new study suggests that dietary guidelines introduced by the Japanese govern-ment in 2000 might have played a vital role in keeping the Japanese population healthy since then, with those adhering to its advice shown to have a lower risk of death from all causes, including 
death from cardiovascular disease and particularly stroke.
“Our findings suggest that balanced consumption of energy, grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, soy products, dairy products, confectionaries, and alcoholic beverages can contribute to longevity by decreasing the risk of death, predominantly from cardiovascular disease, in the Japanese population,” researchers from the National Centre for Global Health and Medicine in Japan write in The BMJ.
Okay, so that shopping list is a bit to take in at a glance, so we’ve replicated the guidelines with the Japanese government’s ‘Spinning Top’ (which is another way of saying food pyramid) below. The Spinning Top, 
published in 2005 
and based on the 2000 guidelines, was developed by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and 
Fisheries, and stipulates the following.
In the course of one day, people should aim to eat: 5–7 servings of grain dishes (rice, bread, noodles, and pasta); 5–6 servings of vegetables; 3–5 servings of fish and meat (including egg and soy bean dishes); 2 serves of milk or milk products; 2 serves of fruit. In this context, each of the serving sizes are pretty small, for vegetables, it’s up to around 70 grams per serve. And right at the top, you can see lots 
of water or tea consumption is advised, 
in addition to plenty 
of physical exercise.
In the NCGHM study looking at how effective these recommendations really are, the researchers collected data from food and lifestyle questionnaires completed by 36,624 men and 42,920 women in Japan aged between 45 and 75. None of the participants had any history of cancer, stroke, heart disease, or chronic liver disease, and were followed up with health checks for 15 years.
The researchers found that the men and women who 
adhered more closely to the guidelines had a 15 percent lower total mortality rate over 15 years. According to the researchers, the protective benefits 
afforded by the diet were mostly attributable to a lower risk of cerebrovascular disease.
While it’s definitely a large study with a fairly massive cohort, it’s important to bear in mind that the researchers only considered Japanese people living in Japan, so we can’t just assume that the same diet would have the same effects on people in other 
countries.
That said, the 
Spinning Top guidelines are broadly similar to lots of recommended diets in Western countries and elsewhere, so they could be a handy blueprint to keep in the back of your mind when you’re considering the kinds of food you should be eating more (and less) of.
Until tomorrow:
It’s a wonderful 
thing to be optimistic. It keeps you healthy and it keeps you 
resilient.

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Dorothy Prats

[email protected]