We don’t get to decide if we live long and healthy lives, but we can tip the scales in our favor by choosing the right foods.
Nutritional science research, as well as looking at the diets of those who have lived into their 90’s and beyond, have helped to show that what we eat, and when we eat it, has a big influence on our lifespans.
Here are 31 ways to help you eat for a lengthy life:
1. Broccoli, Grapes, and Salad
The best scientifically backed diet for health and longevity is comprised of fruits and vegetables, lots of nutrients, and low in calories.
Broccoli, grapes, and salad have been found to contain compounds that could help extend life.
Berries are full of antioxidants, which are known to boost immunity and could help reduce the risk of life-threatening disease. A Harvard University study in 2012 found that at least one serving per week of blueberries, or two of strawberries, could reduce the risk of a reduction in mental function in older adults.
107 year-old Nancy Fisher swears that her faith – and garlic – have given her such a long life.
Science says she may well have a point, as studies have found that phytochemicals in garlic can stop cancer-causing chemicals forming in the body. It’s also been found that women who eat more garlic have a lower risk of contracting certain colon cancers.
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, and it’s full of monounsaturated healthy fats. Studies show that olive oil may also help prevent cancer and keep the brain healthy. The optimal amount is two tablespoons per day.
5. Bok Choy
Bok choy is a cruciferous veggie like turnip and cabbage, and they are full of fiber, vitamin C, and folate, which can contribute to a longer lifespan.
One study from Vanderbilt University showed that breast cancer survivors who ate more cruciferous vegetables had lower risks of death or of the cancer returning over the study period.
The National Center of Health Statistics say that in order to keep your heart healthy, you should eat more heart-beneficial foods, like avocado.
Avocados can lower the harmful LDL cholesterol in the body, while also raising the good HDL cholesterol levels. They also help your body to absorb nutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene.
Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, which is an important nutrient for fighting cancer. Eating them cooked doesn’t reduce the lycopene content, so you can have them in pasta sauce, chutney, or soup, and the cooking actually increases the amount of carotenoids your body can absorb.
A diet that is rich in beans and legumes increases the body’s levels of butyrate, a fatty acid that can protect against cancer.
A 2004 study conducted on elderly people in Australia, Japan, Sweden, and Greece found that the subjects had a 7 to 8 percent reduction in death for every 20 grams of legumes they ate daily.
9. Grains and Seeds
Increasing your fiber intake can reduce the risk of death from any cause by 22 percent, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Fiber can protect against diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers, as well as reduce cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
10. Moderate Alcohol Intake
Some studies have suggested that no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women, can be beneficial to the heart. Moderate drinkers tend to live longer than heavy drinkers or teetotalers.
A 2012 study also found that moderate levels of drinking may reduce a man’s risk of death in the two decades following a heart attack.
11. …Or No Booze At All
Tomoji Tanabe, who was the world’s oldest man from 2007 to 2009, when he died at 113, said that his lifelong abstinence of alcohol was the key to his long life.
He also enjoyed eating miso soup with clams and fried shrimp, and he drank milk every day.
12. Maybe A Little Whisky
The world’s oldest certified twins in 2010 had reached the ripe old age of 98, and part of that they said was their choice of drinks – whisky for Raymonde, and pastis (an anise flavored liqueur) for Lucienne.
The sisters, who used to be gymnasts in the French team in the 1930’s, also say that regular exercise helped them stay young.
13. Pureh Tea
Ever heard of pureh tea? It’s an earthy, rich variety that contains even more antioxidants than green tea, and is the drink of choice for nutrition expert Frances Largeman-Roth, RD.
Steep a pureh tea bag for three to five minutes in hot water, and serve with lemon and honey for a big boost of antioxidants.
We’re often told that coffee is bad for us, but 106-year-old Ethel Engstrom doesn’t agree. She says she stays healthy by eating well and drinking around 12 cups of black coffee per day.
You don’t need to drink that much to get the health benefits of coffee, though. A 2008 study by Harvard University found that women had an 18% lower risk of dying if they drank two to three cups per day, and 26% lower if they drank four to five. Those who drank six or more decreased their risk by 17%.
A 1999 study showed that men who ate a modest amount of chocolate up to three times a month lived almost a year longer than those who didn’t.
A more recent 2009 study also found that patients who survived a heart attack were 44% less likely to die over the next eight years if they ate chocolate once a week, compared to those who didn’t.
Chocolate lovers rejoice! However, it’s dark chocolate that contains all the antioxidants, not the milk variety.
16. Reduce Red Meats
If you choose to go meat-free a few times a week, you could lengthen your lifespan. Those who eat red meat every day have a higher risk of dying over a 10-year period than those who eat less, says a study from the University of North Carolina.
Burgers, steak, and pork were partially responsible, but processed meats such as bacon, ham and hot dogs also played a part.
17. Eat More White Meats
The same study showed that those who ate a lot of white meat (chicken, turkey, and fish), seemed to have a slightly lower risk of dying during the study than those who ate very little.
18. Eat More Nuts
A study from Harvard in March 2019 found that red meat consumption is linked with a greater risk of cancer, heart diseases and other causes of death. This study looked at healthier protein sources, such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes, and found that trading a serving of beef or pork for one of nuts could reduce the risk of death during middle age by 19%.
19. Eat Like a Costa Rican
Pork is classed as a red meat so it shouldn’t help you extend your life, but tell that to the Costa Ricans!
A 60-year-old man in Costa Rica is around twice as likely to reach the age of 90, compared with men in the US, France, or even Japan, says author Dan Buettner.
Costa Ricans live a very active life, and have a diet that is made up mostly of corn, beans, pork, garden veggies, and fruit that they grow themselves.
20. Red Fruits and Vegetables
Red-colored fruits and veggies can help you to stay young, and eating a mix of produce in bright colors is a great way to get all your nutrients.
Red cabbage can help prevent cancer, as well as boost brain health, beet juice can lower blood pressure, and tomatoes help to reduce cholesterol.
21. Go Bananas
Bananas are the favorite food of the world’s oldest triathlete. Arthur Gilbert, 91, who completed his 41st race recently, says he enjoys a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables – especially bananas.
Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel can help heart disease patients live longer due to their omega-3 fatty acids.
These fatty acids help to fight inflammation that can potentially damage out DNA. A 2009 study found that men who ate the most baked or boiled fish (not fried, dried, or salted), reduced their risk of heart-disease related death by 23% compared to those who ate the least.
23. Eat Organic
Some experts say that organic foods are as nutritionally identical as mass-produced foods, but there have been a few studies that show they may contain more vitamins and minerals.
A study from Newcastle University in 2011 suggested that because of these extra nutrients, organic food may extend the average lifespan by around 25 days for men, and 17 days for women.
24. Don’t Clear Your Plate
Did your parents tell you to always finish what’s on your plate? Turns out they may be wrong! Dan Buettner says that if you want to live to be 100, you should always leave something on your plate after every meal.
Buettner has studied people around the world who live in areas with improved rates of longevity, and he says in Japan, people stop eating when they are 80% full. The Japanese have a top spot on the list of the world’s oldest people.
25. Two Square Meals a Day
Walter Breuning of Montana was the world’s oldest man at 114 when he died in 2011. He said he lived for such a long time because he only ate two meals a day.
He had a big breakfast and lunch, but skipped supper and drank lots of water.
26. …Or Maybe Every Other Day
Some studies have shown that animals live longer if they eat every other day. Some diet programs have taken up this idea, but they are likely to be hard to follow for any length of time.
Research has also shown that those who restrict calories have lower core temperatures, which indicates that their bodies are operating as efficiently as possible.
27. Eat Like the Japanese
The traditional Japanese diet consists of fish, tofu, edamame, and vegetables. Japan has some of the world’s longest-living residents, and experts think that the Japanese style of eating helps control weight as well as boost lifespans.
28. …Or Like the Greeks
The Mediterranean diet is full of healthy fats from fish, olive oil, and nuts, which are combined with lean protein, fruits, and vegetables.
This dietary combo has been linked with longer lifespans, healthier hearts, and lower rates of cancer, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.
29. …Or Even the Vikings!
The Nordic or Scandinavian diet concentrates on traditional Nordic foods such as cabbage, rye bread, root vegetables, oatmeal, and fish.
A 12 year study showed that when participants stuck to the traditional Nordic diet, their risk of death dropped by 4 to 6 percent.
30. Home Cooking
A 2012 study showed that those who cooked at home up to five times a week had a 47% greater chance of living over a 10-year period than those who didn’t. It can be a pain to go out and shop for ingredients, but take heart; taking public transport and grocery shopping are also linked with a lower risk of death.
31. Pepperoni Pizza
This should cheer you up if your favorite food doesn’t make the list! Sister Cecilia Adorni of Connecticut died at 103 in 2011. At her birthday party that year her coworkers (she was still putting in a day’s work, even at 103!) said she liked to eat steak every now and then, and could put away a vast amount of pepperoni pizza when the fancy took her.