Award Best Scientific Paper of 2014

grant holder
Ellen Struijk,
University Medical Center Utrecht

Ellen Struijk,

Healthy lifestyle and plant-based diet can prolong lifespan in good health by two years

Alpro Foundation awards publication of young researcher Ellen Struijk

April 23, 2015: Ellen Struijk, a young researcher at the University Medical Center in Utrecht (The Netherlands), received the first Alpro Foundation Award for the best scientific paper by a young scientist. She received this Award of 2500€ for her publication ‘Dietary patterns in relation to disease burden expressed in Disability-Adjusted Life Years’ published in The American Journal for Nutrition. With this award, Alpro Foundation wants to stimulate young researchers (under the age of thirty-one) to carry out more research in the field of plant-based nutrition and its impact on health. Struijk studied how diet can influence the total disease burden of the population. Her research has emphasized the importance of healthy nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

Impact of lifestyle on health

Studies into the impact of, for instance, smoking on cancer are plentiful. But other, less frequently researched lifestyle-related factors, including nutrition, body weight and physical activity, also have an impact on how long we stay healthy as we age. Ellen Struijk studied the influence of various lifestyle factors on the total disease burden of the population. She calculated the so-called DALYs, or Disability-Adjusted Life Years, for participants in the EPIC-NL study. This is a database with information on more than 33,000 inhabitants of the Netherlands with widely varying lifestyles and eating habits. DALYs are a measure indicating the total burden created by diseases. They not only measure the number of people dying prematurely because of illness, but also the number of years that patients live with restrictions due to an illness.

A ‘prudent’ diet for a longer life

Struijk focused on the diets of EPIC-NL participants. She found that people following a ‘Mediterranean-type diet’ who also exercised, didn’t smoke and weren’t overweight, lived on average two years longer in good health than others who didn’t follow a healthy lifestyle.

Struijk concludes that a healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on plant-based nutrition (vegetables, fruit, nuts and legumes) and a limited intake of meat, saturated fat and alcohol, can have an important impact on health.

Professor Ian Rowland, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Alpro Foundation, emphasizes the importance of this research: “This research shows clearly that a healthy diet results in a lower disease burden. With the Alpro Foundation Award we hope to stimulate young researchers to continue with such socially relevant research. We still notice that general knowledge about nutrition and health is often insufficient.”

About the award

The Alpro Foundation Award for best scientific paper honors a promising young researcher as the first author of an outstanding paper in the field of plant-based nutrition (impact on health or sustainability).  The first author must be affiliated to a European University and must be younger than 31 years. The prize is 2500€ for the young scientist.


Reference: Struijk E et al, Dietary patterns in relation to disease burden expressed in Disability-Adjusted Life Years. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;100:1158–65.