What is longevity?
The ideal human diet can be a confusing topic with much conflicting advice. One day you’re told that butter is terrible for you, but a week later, you read an article that encourages you to melt saturated fat into your coffee. Sometimes you think you should be vegetarian, but on other days, the keto diet sounds like it might be the best plan.
The type and quality of food you eat can contribute to health or disease — and it can also increase or decrease your lifespan. Learn more about nutrition for longevity and discover how to incorporate the highest-quality foods into your daily diet.
Longevity is the term used to indicate a long life. Researchers often speak and write about longevity paired with a healthy lifestyle. After all, there wouldn’t be a point to living a long time if you were more miserable the older you became. Many people around the world live to be 90, 100, and even older. Have you ever wondered how their lives — and eating patterns — may differ from yours?
Part of your longevity depends on your genes. Are people in your family prone to developing specific types of cancer, heart disease, or autoimmune conditions? Certain diseases can shorten your lifespan, but what you eat, how well you sleep, and how you manage stressors can play a big role in how long you live. Researchers are studying plant-based diets, intermittent fasting, and sustainable lifestyles that might help people live longer and healthier lives.
Is there an ideal human diet?
There isn’t one specific eating pattern that is right for everyone, but the guidelines are similar in broad strokes: Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, don’t overdo it on fats, and make sure to stay hydrated with lots of water. It’s fine to have dessert here and there. It’s the pattern, more than the specific foods, that will show up in your health over time.
Most “diets” that pop up in the media are unsustainable long-term. Excessive calorie cutting or restricting the food groups you eat to attain perfect health will leave you disappointed — and your longevity might suffer in the long run.
How does food affect longevity?
What you put into your body matters. Over time, a healthy dietary pattern can boost your longevity. The opposite is true as well: An unhealthy way of eating can cause nutritional deficiencies, cause inflammation, and put your heart at risk. Work on decreasing foods that have a negative effect on your overall health and eating more of the ones that lower your risk of disease.
As cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death for most groups of people in the U.S., you shouldn't take the health of this important organ lightly. Consider these nutritional tips for keeping your heart healthy:
- Cut back on unhealthy foods: The World Health Association advises that no more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fats (the type found in meat, dairy products, coconut oil, and more). Likewise, less than 10% of your total calories should come from added sugars.
- Eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables: The fiber in these dietary staples can decrease your cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease at unhealthy levels.
- Decrease your salt intake: The American Heart Association encourages adults to limit their sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams per day. However, if you can set a goal of a maximum of 1,500, it might be better for your heart health in the long run.
Focus on small lifestyle changes in addition to paying attention to your diet if you want to keep your heart healthy well into old age. Strive for regular aerobic exercise, decrease stress when you can, and ensure you get enough sleep to keep your heart in top working condition. Do yourself a favor and quit smoking, drugs, too much alcohol, and excess caffeine if you haven’t already.
Chronic inflammation, or inflammation that lasts in a low-grade state for a long time, is a contributing factor to many diseases that can take years off your lifespan. You might have chronic inflammation from an autoimmune condition — like rheumatoid arthritis, where your immune system attacks your joint tissue — or it could come from your diet.
Nutrition experts advise eating an anti-inflammatory diet to lessen the effects of chronic inflammation on your body. Foods that increase inflammation tend to be “junk” foods that contain lots of sugar, red meat, and fried food.
You’re probably aware of the fact that you need to maintain a healthy weight to decrease your risk of certain weight-related diseases like heart problems, strokes, diabetes, high cholesterol, and many more. Your longevity depends on your ability to eat appropriate portions, choose healthy foods, and avoid foods that aren’t good for you.
This isn’t to say that losing weight is simple. If you’re slightly overweight, consider where you could tweak your diet to incorporate more healthy foods and make it a point to fit physical exercise into your weekly schedule. If you’re struggling with obesity, working with a dedicated nutritionist might help you shed enough weight to decrease your risk of disease. Remember that the goal of losing weight isn’t to change your physical appearance — it’s to prevent disease.
Changing your eating pattern can seem overwhelming at first. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist for more details about your specific goals, and learn more about the foods you should include in — or cut out of — your diet to set the stage for a long, healthy life.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Heart Association: "Here's how many years you could gain by keeping heart disease at bay," "How much sodium should I eat per day?" "Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber," "Why Should I Lose Weight?"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Heart Disease Facts."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Foods that fight inflammation."
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Best Diet: Quality Counts."
Pahwa, R., Goyal, A., Jialal, I. StatPearls, "Chronic Inflammation," StatPearls Publishing, 2022.
Reid Health: "Fad diets: The New Year's resolution's worst enemy."
USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology: "New Article Outlines the Characteristics of a 'Longevity Diet'."
World Health Organization: "Healthy diet."
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