We all want to live a long, happy, and healthy life. The good news is that there are several steps we can take to increase our chances of doing just that. In this article, we discuss the key tenets of a longevity diet, plus other ways to maximize your chances of both living longer and ageing well. This should help you create an effective longevity health plan that’s backed by science.March 13, 2023 3:30 pm March 13, 2023 3:30 pm
Longevity: more than just genetics
What determines our life expectancy? And can actions like following a longevity diet really lengthen it?
Some people think longevity is mostly down to genetics, however your genes are just one piece of this complex puzzle. In fact, experts estimate that genetic factors only account for about 25% of the variation in human lifespan.(1) So, what else influences our chances of living a long and healthy life?
Firstly, our environment plays an important role. Factors like access to clean water, the availability of advanced medical care, and having a safe place to live all help to increase our life expectancy. Of course, just as we can’t change our genes, many of these issues are also outside of our control. But that doesn’t mean we’re entirely subject to the whims of fate.
Our lifestyle choices are hugely influential in both how long we live and how well we age. Everything from the food we consume to our levels of physical activity can affect the length of our lifespan. In addition, these factors will have an impact on how healthy and independent we are in our golden years.
That means there are plenty of things we can do to increase our chances of living to a ripe old age – and staying happy and healthy for as long as possible. One of the most important of these is eating well. Following a longevity diet could help lower your risk of a wide range of chronic medical conditions and premature death. This in turn enables you to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life for longer.
So, what exactly is the best diet for longevity? And what other lifestyle changes can you make to maximize its benefits? Let’s get into the details.
The best diet for longevity
There are lots of different diets out there that claim to help increase your longevity. But which longevity diet is the most effective? Well, the answer could actually be several of them.
That’s because rather than following a strict longevity diet with meal plans and calorie counting, it’s more beneficial to adhere to a few key nutrition principles. These allow for some flexibility, meaning you’re able to create a longevity diet plan that suits your lifestyle and preferences.
We’ll discuss these central tenets in more detail below, but first let’s examine some of the diets that embrace them.
The Mediterranean diet
People have lauded this as one of the healthiest diets in the world for years, and with good reason. It’s based on the traditional diets of people living in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, whole grains, and legumes. Conversely, it contains little red meat, dairy, or processed food. Science suggests this longevity diet is particularly beneficial for the health of your heart.(2)
The plant-based diet
A vegan or plant-based diet involves only eating foods that come from plants. That means lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, but no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products. Research indicates that veganism is an effective longevity diet because it has numerous positive effects on our health. These include reducing your risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.(3)
The longevity diet
This is a set of guidelines developed by Professor Valter Longo, based on decades of research into ageing and nutrition. The longevity diet recommends following a mostly plant-based diet, but with the inclusion of fish. It emphasizes the importance of consuming fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, and olive oil.(4)
How to harness nutrition for longevity
You’ve probably noticed that the three diets described above have a lot in common. That’s no coincidence. Virtually every type of longevity diet follows the same general principles about what to eat and what to avoid.
The findings of studies into Blue Zones highlight this.(5) The Blue Zones are five regions of the world which have high concentrations of centenarians. Not only do their residents live longer than average, they also tend to remain healthy well into their old age.
Researchers discovered nine key principles they believe help explain why people in these areas enjoy exceptionally long and flourishing lives. Two of these ‘Power 9’ characteristics relate to food. One covers what people in Blue Zones eat, and the other relates to how they eat it. Together, these can form the basis of an effective longevity diet. Time to get into the specifics.
"One of the most important things we can do to increase our chances of living to a ripe old age – and staying happy and healthy at the same time – is eating well."
What to eat on a longevity diet
The first characteristic of a longevity diet is that it is almost entirely plant based. Throughout the Blue Zones, people eat diets that are rich in vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Some also include fish and meat, but in low quantities.
There’s a wealth of research that backs up the health and longevity benefits of eating in this way. For example, studies have linked a high consumption of fruit and vegetables with a lower chance of developing conditions such as heart disease and cancer.(6) It can also reduce your risk of death from such diseases. That’s why fruit and vegetables should be the cornerstone of any longevity diet. In particular, include lots of dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, sweet potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.
Turning to pulses, these are fantastic sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. People in Blue Zones tend to eat four times more beans than average, and evidence suggests they offer numerous benefits. These include improving heart health, reducing cancer risk, and boosting the health of your gut. One study found that eating 20g of legumes a day reduced a person’s risk of death by 8%.(7) That alone demonstrates why they should be a major part of your longevity diet!
Nuts are another key ingredient that studies have linked with reduced mortality.(8) Research shows they can help lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and combat oxidative stress. All of which helps to prevent the development of chronic diseases that can decrease life expectancy. So the next time you want a snack, try reaching for some wellness-boosting walnuts or almonds!
Great additions to level up your longevity diet
As well as the key food groups discussed above, there are certain individual ingredients that can offer big longevity benefits.
One of the most notable of these is turmeric. Its active ingredient, curcumin, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies suggest it may help protect against a range of age-related conditions, including cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.(9) So try adding turmeric powder to your favorite dishes for a dose of longevity-boosting nutrients. Pairing it with black pepper helps increase the bioavailability of curcumin for greater health benefits.
Of course, a longevity diet isn’t all about food – you’ll need something to drink too. Interestingly, research shows that both coffee and green tea are associated with a lower risk of premature death.(10) They also reduce the chances of developing a number of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So, pop the kettle on in the morning to start your day in a healthy way!
Nutrition for longevity: foods to avoid
For a longevity