The study included over 72,000 women who were followed for 18 years, from 1984 to 2002. Their dietary patterns were studied using food frequency questionnaires administered every two to four years. Two major dietary patterns were found. Those who consumed high amounts of vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish, poultry and whole grains had a 28 percent reduction in the risk of death from heart disease and a 30 percent reduction in the risk of dying from other diseases. Those who consumed a typical "Western" diet, high in red meat, french fries and sweets had an increased risk of death from all causes.
This women's nutrition study is particularly interesting because of the size of the study group and because of the approach of the researchers. The majority of prior nutritional research has focused on the impact of specific foods or nutrients on disease risk, but this study focused on dietary patterns, which better reflects the complexity of both our lifestyle habits and disease mechanisms.
The research highlights the importance of adopting overall dietary patterns involving high intakes of plant foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, as well as fish and poultry. Diets high in these foods provide a clear reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses. Red and processed meats, refined grains like white flour, french fries and sweets should be avoided.