The best diet for longevity is one that includes plenty of fruits, nuts and legumes, vegetables, and whole grains. Foods to limit or avoid for longevity include those high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. Keep in mind that exercise, in addition to a healthy diet, is important for life expectancy.

Genetics plays a role in life expectancy, but lifestyle is a more significant factor. Nutrition is a big piece of the puzzle: Some evidence suggests that 25% of one’s longevity is determined by genetics, and the rest is influenced by lifestyle.

Most people want to live a longer life. The goal of longevity is also to live a better life, with improved mental and physical wellness and the ability to be active and independent. Read on to learn how you can lengthen life expectancy with diet.

Research has shown that a diet rich in fruits, nuts and legumes, vegetables, and whole grains is linked to a lower risk of early death. In a study published in 2023, researchers followed the eating patterns of over 120,000 people for more than 30 years. The researchers found that those who ate more of these foods were less likely to die from cancer or heart, neurodegenerative, and respiratory diseases.

These foods are natural sources of antioxidants, fiber, minerals, and vitamins that support overall health. A healthy diet that supplies these nutrients can control weight and lower the risk of diseases that are linked to early death.

Eating more produce is one of the most important and impactful habits you can adopt. Most Americans are way off the mark: Only about one in 10 U.S. adults eats enough vegetables and fruit. Just 10% hit the recommended two to three daily cups of vegetables, and 12% hit the daily target of 1.5 to two cups of fruit.

Reaching these minimums may add years to your life. Research has found that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of mortality from all causes, including heart disease and cancer. Aim for at least five servings per day. More is fine, but the risk of death may not reduce further beyond this point.

How To Eat

Build in two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily, with one cup being about the size of a tennis ball. Here are some tips:

  • Add fresh fruit, like sliced apples or orange slices, to entrée salads and stir-fry recipes.
  • Incorporate one cup of vegetables at lunch and two at dinner.
  • Make a smoothie with a handful of greens and a cup of frozen berries.
  • Try getting into a routine of incorporating a cup of fruit into every breakfast and a second as part of a daily snack. 

Nuts are nutrition powerhouses that provide healthful fat, plant protein, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. You’ll also get plenty of key minerals from nuts, like potassium and magnesium. 

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. A study published in 2020 followed 5,800 men and women with metabolic syndrome for one year. The researchers found that certain markers for metabolic syndrome decreased as nut consumption increased.

These markers include waist circumference, triglyceride levels, systolic blood pressure, weight, and body mass index (BMI). HDL (“good”) cholesterol also increased in women but not men.

How To Eat

Enjoy a serving of nuts, which is one ounce (oz) or a quarter cup. Twp tablespoons (tbsp) of nut butter also counts as a serving. You can enjoy nuts and nut butter as is or:

  • Add nuts to salads, cooked vegetables, and stir-fry recipes.
  • Bake with nut flours or use them in pancakes.
  • Crush nuts as an alternative to bread crumbs to coat fish or garnish dishes like mashed cauliflower or lentil soup.
  • Use nut butter as a dip for fresh fruit or celery.
  • Blend nut butter into your smoothie, or stir it into oatmeal.

You can build plant-based meals into your eating routine more than one day a week for longevity. Research has found that vegetarian diets are associated with significantly lower levels of heart disease risk factors.

A study published in 2022 looked at how food choices affect life expectancy. The researchers determined that the largest gains in longevity could be made by reducing red and processed meat intake.

In a study published in 2016, researchers describe five areas in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Deemed Blue Zones, these regions are found in very diverse areas: from Okinawa, Japan to Ikaria, Greece.

One commonality they share is the consumption of primarily plant-based diets. Beans and lentils are cornerstones. Meat is eaten on average about five times per month in 3- to 4-oz portions, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

The only Blue Zone in the U.S. is in Loma Linda, California, which has the highest concentration of Seventh-Day Adventists. This population, known for their primarily plant-based diet, lives, on average, 10 years longer than their North American counterparts.

How To Eat

Swap the meat in meals for pulses, which is the umbrella term for beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas. Here are some ways to incorporate meat-free meals to reap the benefits:

  • Explore ethnic restaurants in your area that offer pulse-based dishes, like Indian chickpea curry and Ethiopian lentil stew.
  • Opt for lentil or black bean soup on the side instead of adding chicken to a salad.
  • Snack on vegetables with hummus instead of jerky.
  • Use black-eyed peas in a stir fry in place of meat.

It’s the overall eating pattern, rather than one food or food group, that’s key to longevity. A Mediterranean diet remains one of the gold standards for living longer and more healthfully.

This eating pattern is characterized by a high intake of:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthful fats from nuts, olive oil, and avocado
  • Herbs and spices
  • Pulses
  • Whole grains 

The Mediterranean diet also includes seafood a few times per week and moderate consumption of dairy, eggs, and wine. It also limits the intake of meat and sweets.

One measure of longevity often cited in the research at the cellular level is telomere length. Telomeres are caps found at the ends of chromosomes that protect DNA. A cell becomes old or dysfunctional when telomeres become too short. Shorter telomeres are associated with a lower life expectancy and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

A study published in 2017 found that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is linked to longevity by maintaining longer telomere length. The study authors showed that the risk of death from any cause drops by 4% to 7% for each one-point increment in the Mediterranean diet score. This score measures adherence to the diet.

How To Eat

Here are some ways to make your meals Mediterranean-style:

  • Keep meals simple: A dinner may consist of fish served over a bed of greens tossed in extra virgin olive oil with a side of roasted potatoes or quinoa and a glass of pinot noir.
  • Replace butter with nut butter or avocado on toast and trade it for extra virgin olive oil to sauté vegetables.
  • Snack on fresh fruit with nuts, olives, or roasted chickpeas.

It cannot definitively be said that drinking green tea will make you live longer. There does still seem to be some association between longevity and green tea intake, though.

Numerous studies have linked green tea to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. A review published in 2022 found that those with the highest green tea intake had lower rates of and a lower risk of dying from heart disease and stroke.

How To Drink

Here are some ways to incorporate green tea into your diet. Just be sure to cut off all caffeine at least six hours before bedtime, so you won’t disrupt your sleep length or quality:

  • Enjoy matcha, which is a powdered form of green tea.
  • Incorporate the tea into soups, stews, sauces, and marinades.
  • Use green tea as the liquid in smoothies, oatmeal, overnight oats, or steamed vegetables or brown rice. 

You don’t need to eat only the foods listed above to maintain a healthy diet, but it’s important to limit certain items. It’s perfectly OK to enjoy your favorite foods every now and then. Just make sure to do so in moderation.

Foods and drinks to limit or avoid for longevity include:

  • Added sugar (e.g., cakes, candy, cookies, ice cream, and soda)
  • Alcohol
  • High-sodium foods
  • Saturated fat (e.g., butter, cheese, palm and coconut oils, and processed and red meat)

Consuming the protective foods described above, including fruits, vegetables, and more, can support longevity. Reach for an apple with almond butter in place of cookies, and replace soda with green tea. It’s important to remember that it’s perfectly OK to enjoy a sweet treat every now and then in moderation, limiting too much added sugar, processed meat like bacon and sausage, or alcohol. 

Focus on what to eat, and you’ll naturally curb your intake of foods to avoid. Consistency is key to longevity. A long-haul diet supports a long, healthy life.

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