You are what you eat — at least that’s what they say. And for the most part that has been true. If you eat something cheap and fast, then you’ll more than likely suffer for it. Before, you’d never know just how much you’d suffer.
But now, researchers believe they have pinpointed the exact amount of time certain foods give or take away from your life.
Health researchers at the University of Michigan have found that eating a single hot dog could take 36 minutes off your life.
In their study, published this month in the journal Nature Food, researchers looked at nearly 6,000 foods in the US diet and measured their effects in minutes of healthy life gained or lost.
Olivier Jolliet, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, is a co-author of the new study. He tells Inverse the average hot dog has 61 grams of processed meat, which results in “27 minutes of healthy life lost due to this amount of processed meat alone.”
“When considering the other risk factors, like the sodium and trans fatty acids inside the hot dog – counterbalanced by the benefit of its polyunsaturated fat and fibers — we arrived at the final value of 36 minutes of healthy life lost per hot dog,” Jolliet says.
This alarming finding was one part of a larger study that looked at several thousand foods. The aim was to develop a “Health Nutritional Index” (HENI).
Essentially, Jolliet and colleagues evaluated different types of food — from apples and fish to soda and hot dogs — to determine their overall “health” level.
fiber, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids helped win points while elements like sodium and trans fat lost points.
For example, for seafood range from about 10 minutes of healthy life lost to 70 minutes of healthy life gained. This difference is largely driven by the omega-3 fatty acid content found in each seafood that can reduce the probability of ischemic heart disease.
What You Should Eat Instead
Looking for a lunch alternative to your hot dog? Researchers found that pb&j could actually add 33 minutes to your life, the top score for any food tracked, according to the full study results.
“Increasing the consumption of nuts and of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (driven by nut content), legumes, seafood, fruits, snack bars, ready-to-eat cereals and non-starchy vegetables is health beneficial,” the authors wrote.
Substituting the likes of fruit, veggies, nuts, or beans for the equivalent of one lousy hot dog could buy you an extra 48 minutes of healthy life.
Healthy life is defined as 1) being alive; and 2) living free of health problems ranging from skin irritations to cancer.
More Healthier Choices to Choose From
To make it easier to make healthier choices, the researchers put foods into three categories, from best to worst in terms of both health and environmental impact:
- Green zone: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and some responsibly harvested seafood.
- Yellow zone: Poultry, grains, and most dairy.
- Red zone: Meat, especially red meat, and most especially processed red meat, plus sugared beverages.
So even if you don’t want to read all of the research or even dive deeper into what each zone means, Jolliet offered a simple and concise suggestion: “Start reducing the red foods now, finding alternatives you like in the green or even intermediary yellow zone.”