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Eating for Longevity; Rules To Live By

by | Feb 4, 2021 | +STRATEGIES

Longevity is incredibly complex, the sum of our luck, genetics, and lifestyle.

That said, our diet can have a sizable impact on our lifespan, according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, dietitian and consultant of Wellness Nutrition Services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute and author of Skinny Liver. Read on for some proven strategies. [1] [2]

our diet can have a sizable impact on our lifespan

Try a Mediterranean-style diet

“Mediterranean-style diets coupled with lower animal protein consumption have shown benefits to longevity,” Kirkpatrick says, citing a 2014 study and a 2020 metanalysis, both published in the British Medical Journal from the British Medical Association.

According to The American Heart Association, this type of eating plan centers around fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and potatoes. Olive oil is the main source of fat; and dairy, eggs, fish, and poultry are consumed in low or moderate amounts.

In general, plant-based eating plans are associated with lower cholesterol and improved blood sugar, says Andy De Santis, RD, author of The 21-Day Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss Plan, Part of the reason this way of eating is so health-protective, he explains, is its high fiber content, which a lot of studies show reduces the risk of cancer. “There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol from arteries and keep blood vessels open,” says The American Heart Association. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

 Feed your gut

 “A diet-induced imbalance of microbiota, or gut bacteria, has been associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity-associated metabolic abnormalities, cancer, and autoimmune and allergic disease,” according to a 2016 articlepublished in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Cell. In fact, “what you feed your microbiome may have the biggest impact on its health,” says Mayo Clinic. “And the healthier it is, the healthier you are.” [8] [9]

For a healthy microbiome, the medical center advises consuming prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are a type of fiber found in plant foods, especially those containing indigestible complex carbohydrates (think asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, yams, and bananas) – they feed the good bacteria in the gut. Meanwhile, probiotics are foods rich in healthy live bacteria, like yogurt and kefir, kombucha, miso, kimchi, and natto. 

Drink plenty of water

Hydrating properly is also critical, says De Santis. After all, about 60% of the body is composed of water, according to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition to carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, the fluid regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and flushes out waste products, according to Mayo Clinic Health System. Without water, humans can survive for only about three days, says Medical News Today. Fluid needs vary, says The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but generally, women need about nine cups per day and men about 12.5 cups. [10] [11] [12]

Share meals with others

Social interactions that take place around the table help us thrive, says Kirkpatrick. Research backs up her assertion: a 2016 studyshowed that “aging adults live longer if they have more social connections…In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension.” In fact, “studies show that building a strong support network of family and friends lowers mortality risk by about 45%,” according to Marta Zaraska, author of Growing Young. [13] [14] 

Watch the processed meats, alcohol, and refined carbs

What we don’t eat and drink is potentially as important as what we do consume. In particular, processed red meats, like bacon and ham, “come up time and time again in terms of disease,” says De Santis. Similarly, he says, more than one alcoholic drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men has been associated with cancer. Refined carbohydrates, whether sugar-sweetened beverages or baked goods made with white flour and sugar, are also problematic, he adds. “They raise our blood sugar and don’t offer much nutritional value.”

Eat a moderate amount of “healthy” carbs

That said, “healthy” carbohydrates are critical to a lifespan-promoting diet. In fact, a 2018 study from National Institutes of Health, published in The Lancet, found that a reduced risk of mortality was associated with diets consisting of 50-55% carbohydrates. The same study also found that plant-based sources of fat and protein also increased longevity. [15]

Consider dietary restriction

Finally, how often we eat (or don’t eat) is also important, De Santis and Kirkpatrick agree. “Studies in animals have found that regular fasting can extend life,” Kirkpatrick says, citing a 2018 article in Cell Metabolism. According to a 2015 article published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Cell, “humans voluntarily undertaking long-term dietary restriction score lower than controls on multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer.” In particular, accumulating evidence suggests that restricting protein in particular may increase longevity, according to this article. In fact, a reduction of protein and the substitution of plant for animal proteins “markedly inhibits prostate and breast cancer growth” in tumor models, it adds. [16] [17]

Read More:

[1] Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD

[2] Skinny Liver

[3] Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study BMJ, 2014

[4] Dietary intake of total, animal, and plant proteins and risk of all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies, BMJ, 2020

[5] What is the Mediterranean Diet?, American Heart Association

[6] Andy De Santis, RD

[7] The 21-Day Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss Plan WeightLoss/dp/1646115708/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=andy+desantis&qid=1606846736&sr=8-1

[8] Promoting Health and Longevity through Diet: from Model Organisms to Humans, Cell, 2016

[9] Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Your Health, Mayo Clinic

[10] How Much Water Do You Need?, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

[11] Water; Essential to Your Body, Mayo Clinic

[12] How Long You Can Live Without Water, Medical News Today

[13] Social networks as important as exercise, diet across the span of our lives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2016

[14] Growing Young

[15] Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis, The Lancet, 2018,

[16] Daily Fasting Improves Health and Survival in Male Mice Independent of Diet Composition and Calories, Cell Metabolism, 2018,

[17] Promoting Health and Longevity through Diet: from Model Organisms to Humans, Cell, 2015,