According to a chapter a Nutrition, food and diet in aging and longevity, published October 2021, studies have found that diets such as the Mediterranean diet, the Okinawan diet, the Nordic diet, and vegetarian diets promote longevity. These diets are likely to help protect cells from aging thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and other substances they contain.
But what does science say about the connection?
Can Your Diet Prevent Age-Related Diseases?
Researchers have found that eating, or not eating, certain types of food can affect your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, which in turn can affect how long you’re likely to live . While no single food will guarantee you’ll live to be 100, research has found that certain eating patterns contribute to longevity by reducing the risk of chronic diseases associated with aging.
For example, you could reduce your risk of heart attack by following a diet like the Mediterranean diet or the Nordic diet, according to a study published in BMC Medicine in June 2018. The Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to a study published in nutrients as of March 2018. Eating mostly plants and whole foods may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a review published in nutrients in September 2020. And whole grains may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to research published in Journal of nutrition in March 2021.
Dr. Carstensen is a fan of the Mediterranean diet, an eating plan that mimics the dietary habits of long-lived residents of the Mediterranean region, with a focus on whole, plant-based foods, healthy fats, nuts and legumes, and lean meats. protein “I love salads and fish, so it’s easy for me, and there’s good reason to think it’s good for you,” she notes. Research backs it up: The Mediterranean diet was linked to longevity in a large review published in nutrients in June 2021.
Specific components of the Mediterranean diet can affect certain health conditions. For example, eating more plant protein (and less animal protein, especially processed red meat) can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Research published in the journal intestine in June 2020 suggested that the Mediterranean diet could benefit the gut microbiome, making you less frail as you age and improving your cognitive function. And plant-based foods slow the onset of diabetes and heart disease, according to research published in Antioxidants in March 2021.
Could limiting your calories extend your life?
Research shows that obesity shortens life. According to research published in Obesity reviews as of April 2020, obesity shortens women’s lives by 7.1 years and men by 5.8 years after age 40. And obesity was linked to a host of chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. a study published in May 2021 a Aging Research Reviews.
On the other hand, preliminary research in animals has shown that restricting calories, a practice that can help with weight loss, can delay aging. “In animal studies, when calorie intake is substantially reduced, the animals not only live longer, they appear to be healthier,” says Carstensen. “This means that there is something about what we eat or don’t eat that influences our health. This is the most compelling evidence that diet matters.”
Research published in Molecular Cell Biology in September 2021 supports the view of Carstensen, who called dietary restriction with adequate nutrition “the gold standard” for promoting a long and healthy life.
A popular eating approach that can naturally reduce calorie intake? Intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating. Intermittent fasting involves alternating between times when you eat and times when you don’t, usually on a daily or weekly basis. Although much more research is needed, more studies have focused on this practice in recent years. For example, research published in Aging of nature January 2021 found that intermittent fasting can improve longevity and health by promoting healthy cellular aging and reducing risk factors for some diseases.
Carstensen practices time-restricted eating: He has nothing but black coffee in the morning and limits the time he eats to a daily window of 8 to 12 hours.
Although more research is needed, the links between what you eat and how long you live are intriguing. The Mediterranean diet, the Blue Zones diet, or the Nordic diet, all of which emphasize whole foods and plant-based foods, could put you on the path to a longer life.
A final word of caution: Always keep in mind that eating too little is not a healthy option for people, with some serious health risks. According to research published in Annual Review of Nutrition as of September 2020, calorie restriction could lead to nutritional deficiencies and could damage muscle and bone tissue (especially in older people who are not obese). Talk to a registered dietitian-nutritionist; he or she can help make sure you’re working toward your health goals and meeting your nutritional needs.
Carstensen on his diet for healthy aging
Here’s what Carstensen had to say about how his work on longevity has influenced the way he eats. Your answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Everyday Health: What does a typical day of eating look like to you?
Laura Carstensen: In the morning, I only drink black coffee. I don’t like to eat breakfast, and this helps me restrict my eating to an 8-12 hour window. I’ll usually have a salad for lunch, and then dinner might be pasta pomodoro, a really good spinach broccoli soup, a red lentil soup I make, grilled salmon or chicken, or a quesadilla. I eat vegetarian a couple of times a week.
That being said, I love food and there isn’t a food group I don’t eat. I enjoy almost any type of food. I’ve probably tried every recommended diet and exercise routine and failed at most of them. In the last 5-10 years, I started leaning towards things I really like and not buying things I like that aren’t good for you. For me, it’s not a good idea to buy chips and put them in my cupboard. If they’re not there, it doesn’t matter, but if they are, I’ll eat too much of them.
EH: Why is this the diet you follow?
LC: Eating with limited time is something that I think is really interesting. Many of the biologists I know who are studying longevity are on time-restricted diets of one kind or another. I think it makes sense that if you eat in fewer hours, you eat less, and you give your body a break from having to process what you’re ingesting. I think there is enough evidence on time-restricted eating for people to consider it.
And the Mediterranean diet seems to have more evidence of being healthy. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains seem to be very good for people. If you look at regions of the world where people live very long lives, most of them eat something like a Mediterranean diet, so there’s good reason to think that’s a good approach.
EH: What is your favorite healthy snack?
LC: I don’t snack at all during the day. I’ll have a glass of wine and nuts or [whole-grain] cookies when I get home from work. I used to eat cheese and crackers, but it was too much cheese, so I switched to plain crackers or nuts.
EH: When you’re feeling down, what foods or drinks do you rely on to boost your energy?
LC: I’m really bad at thinking of food as fuel. I drink coffee in the morning. In the afternoon, if I was calm and tired, I would probably drink green tea. It’s stimulating enough to make me feel awake but not jittery.
EH: Is there a cooking method or technique you gravitate towards? Or one you avoid?
LC: I love cooking. We have very little processed food at home, so from salads to soups, I make these things. I cook with olive oil, this is my default. I make a lot of vegetarian pasta dishes. And I think grilling is a healthy way to eat, indoors or out.
EH: How do you treat yourself?
LC: If I wanted to treat myself, I would go to a really nice restaurant and eat all I wanted. There’s something great about going to a nice French or Italian restaurant where people know how to cook. It’s a pleasure to be able to savor it, and at a time like that I would eat whatever I wanted. I’m not big on deprivation.
EH: What’s one healthy food you wish you ate more of?
LC: I wish I liked kale and carrot smoothies and that kind of thing. It just doesn’t. It’s too runny for me.
EH: Is there any food you would make? never food?
LC: I don’t eat organs like brain, kidneys or liver. They are not attractive.
EH: What’s your strategy when it comes to eating out?
LC: I don’t eat out very often, so I treat myself to what I want. But if I ate out every night, I wouldn’t be able to do that!
EH: Wine with dinner: Yes or no?
LC: Absolutely. Wine before dinner and then with dinner, so two drinks. I believe in research [and the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans] when they say women should only have a glass of wine; but I have two glasses [when I choose to drink wine]and i think i’m fine
EH: What’s one small change you’ve made, dietary or otherwise, to help promote longevity?
LC: Probably eating under time constraints. It’s something I learned from my geroscience peers and I tried it and it made me feel better. I used to put half and half in my coffee and eat five almonds in the morning, as a trainer had told me years ago that you need to eat first thing in the morning to activate your digestive system. I gave that up and it was easy for me.
EH: What small change can anyone make to help them live a longer, healthier life?
LC: Do some kind of exercise. It doesn’t have to be jogging or jogging. It can be walking. And it doesn’t have to be 10,000 steps. You get the best benefit in the first mile, and evidence suggests you don’t get much health benefit after 7,500 steps, although if you want to do more than that, that’s fine.
EH: Any final thoughts on the link between food choices and longevity?
LC: I think the key is to find things you love so you don’t feel deprived and make them readily available in your world. Try to stay away from things you know you’re likely to eat that aren’t good for you; try not to have them in sight or in the closet. And then enjoy life: One of the things that predicts longevity very well is happiness.