Some things about life—and how long we get to enjoy it—are out of our control. But emerging nutrition science research, as well as data collected from people in their 90s and beyond, shows what, when, and how we eat has a profound influence on how long we live. Want to eat for a long and healthy life?
Broccoli, grapes, and salad
We’ll start with the scientific consensus: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, high in nutrients and low in calories, is your best bet for a long life. Need specifics? Eat more broccoli, grapes, and salad: Researchers have found that compounds in these three foods pack extra life-extending benefits.
These bite-sized fruit favorites are check full of antioxidants, known to boost immunity and stave off life-threatening disease. They’ll help you age gracefully as well. A 2012 study from Harvard University found that at least one serving of blueberries or two servings of strawberries each week may reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
At a Pennsylvania banquet celebrating centenarians last spring, Nancy Fisher, 107, attributed her long life to her faith … and her passion for garlic.Fisher may be on to something, however: Studies have found that phytochemicals in garlic can halt the formation of carcinogenic chemicals in the body, and that women who eat more garlic have lower risk of certain colon cancers.
As delicious as it is healthy, this monounsaturated “good fat” is well known for its heart-health and longevity benefits. Studies also show that olive oil may also be linked to brain health and cancer prevention. Aim for two tablespoons a day.
How to prevent heart disease? Eat more foods that help keep your heart healthy, like avocados and others already on this list, and improve your odds of a long life. Avocados can lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol while raising your HDL “good” levels, and they help your body absorb heart-healthy vitamins like beta-carotene and lycopene.
Lycopene is also an important nutrient in the fight against cancer—and there’s no better source than rosy red tomatoes. Eating them cooked, in pasta sauce, tomato soup, or chutney, actually increases the amount of carcinogen-fighting carotenoids your body is able to absorb.
Beans, beans, are good for your…life? In a 2004 study conducted on elderly people in Australia, Japan, Sweden, and Greece, researchers found that participants had a 7% to 8% reduction in death for every 20 grams of legumes they consumed daily. A diet rich in beans and legumes increases levels of the fatty acid butyrate, which can protect against cancer growth, according to a study from Michigan State University.
Grains and seeds
Getting more fiber—specifically by switching from refined bread and pasta to whole grains—can reduce your risk of death from any cause by 22%, according to a 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Experts say that fiber can protect against diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and obesity, and can reduce cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
Less red meat
Going vegetarian a few times a week may lengthen your life. People who eat red meat every day have a higher risk of dying over a 10-year period than those who eat it less, according to a 2009 study from the University of North Carolina. (Most deaths in the study were from heart disease and cancer.) Burgers, steak, and pork were partially to blame, but processed meats—like bacon, ham, and hot dogs—also seemed responsible for shorter lifespans.
Salmon, tuna, and other oily fish can help patients with heart disease live longer, studies have shown, because their omega-3 fatty acids help fight dangerous inflammation that can damage our DNA.