Scientists believe that about 25% of your lifespan is influenced by your genetics. Your genes, which you inherit from your parents, are instructions that code your features, like your hair color and height. But the remaining 75% of your lifespan is influenced by factors you can modify, including your lifestyle and environment. In other words, a large portion of your lifespan is determined by components within your control. The quality of what you eat is a key piece of the lifespan puzzle. Here are the research-backed foods and eating patterns that can help extend your longevity.
Blue Zones and Plant-Forward Nutrition
Blue Zones are five areas of the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Blue Zones include areas in Greece, Japan, Italy, Costa Rica, and the USA (California). Blue Zones residents are likely to become centenarians (exceed the age of 100 years old) and remain healthy. Their way of life is highly aligned with Lifestyle Medicine, as they value plant-forward diets, physical activity, social connection, sleep, rituals that reduce stress, and not smoking.
When it comes to nutrition, Blue Zones communities typically enjoy a 95-100% plant-based diet. Eating patterns in these regions are centered around whole, unprocessed foods. In addition, their diets are rich in nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.
In short, incorporating these foods into your meals can help you eat more like Blue Zones communities:
- Nuts: 1-2 handfuls per day
- Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts
- Beans: ½ – 1 cup per day
- Black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava beans
- 100% whole grains: 3 servings per day
- Barley, brown rice, bulgur, farro, ground corn, quinoa, oats
- Fruits and vegetables: 5-10 servings per day
- Avocados, bananas, bitter melons, lemons, papayas, peach palms, plantains, tomatoes
- Fennel, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, squash, sweet potatoes, wild greens, yams
How Do These Foods Help?
Research shows that shifting away from a typical Western diet that is high in processed foods to an eating pattern that includes legumes, whole grains, and nuts is linked with longevity. If this shift starts at 20 years old, the increase in life expectancy is reported to be 10.7 years for females and 13 years for males. If this shift starts at 60 years old, the increase in life expectancy is reported to be over 8 years.
These foods are also powerful on their own. Nuts are packed with key nutrients, including copper, fiber, folate, vitamin E, and arginine. Evidence shows that people who eat nuts daily have a 20% lower mortality rate than people who do not consume nuts. Eating nuts has also been shown to protect against heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
As for beans, one study found that consuming 20 grams of beans per day can reduce the risk of death by about 8%. There are many benefits to replacing meat with beans. This practice is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, two of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.
Whole grains are also tied to longevity.
Whole grains are differentiated from refined grains mainly because the entirety of the plant remains intact, including the bran. The bran portion of a whole grain contains valuable nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Research shows that whole grain consumers generally have a 9% lower mortality rate, and a 15% lower death rate from heart disease, compared to those who do not regularly eat whole grains.
Lastly, fruits and vegetables are linked with longevity, largely due to their polyphenols. Polyphenols are natural compounds that protect against stress-induced damage that leads to chronic conditions, such as heart disease. Research shows that people who ingested 650 mg of polyphenols daily have about a 30% lower death risk compared to those who ingested under 500 mg daily.