Although aging is inevitable, there’s plenty you can do to help promote a longer, healthier life. In fact, research has proven that how you age is less about genetics and more in your control than you realize, says Anant Vinjamoori, M.D, chief medical officer of Modern Age. This includes taking stock of your existing eating habits and opting for more foods for a longer life. When it comes to longevity, the first thing you’ll want to consider is the food items you tend to consume.
“The key is to avoid processed foods, which are often high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium and can contribute to various health problems,” Dr. Vinjamoori tells Eat This, Not That! Indeed, diet plays an integral role in how we age and is a crucial lifestyle factor ensuring you live healthier for longer. “A diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds—is associated with longer, healthier life spans. These foods provide an abundance of phytochemicals and flavonoids, compounds that exhibit antioxidants , anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties,” says Dr. Vinjamoori.
And while there’s no single food that can magically extend your life, there are plenty of foods that you can eat in combination with one another that can help reduce your risk of disease and support you into your golden years. For example, take a look at the dietary patterns observed in the world’s “Blue Zones,” aka areas where people live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. Common across all these zones is a high intake of plant-based foods and a low intake of meat and processed foods, says Dr. Vinjamoori.
Here are seven foods that can help you live longer—and for healthy eating insight, be sure to check out 7 Eating Habits To Steal From the World’s Longest Living People.
Whether almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, or a crunchy combo of all, you’ll want to snack on a handful of nuts more often. The landmark PREDIMED study, a large, long-term nutritional intervention trial, observed a significant reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among those who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts compared to a reduced-fat diet. The group who ate nuts was observed to have a 39% lower mortality risk.
“Nuts are rich in unsaturated fats (a healthy form of fat), fiber, antioxidants, and certain vitamins and minerals that collectively promote heart health, help control weight, and possibly aid longevity,” says Dr. Vinjamoori.
Turmeric, a staple ingredient in Indian foods like dal, sambar, and rasam, contains curcumin, a bioactive compound with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to Dr. Vinjamoori.
Chronic inflammation is a significant factor in many aging-related diseases, and the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin can help mitigate this, he says, pointing to a 2021 study in Drug Design, Development and Therapy. What’s more, curcumin is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US, according to a 2022 review in Cells.
Pro tip: Always combine turmeric with black pepper, as the pepper helps increase curcumin’s bioavailability.
Antioxidant-rich olive oil, which is high in healthy fats, is a staple in the Mediterranean diet for good reason. A 2022 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology It was observed that people who took more than ½ tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 19% lower risk of dying (from any cause) than those who rarely or never consumed olive oil. Specifically, folks who enjoyed olive oil had a 29% lower risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease (like Alzheimer’s), a 19% lower risk of heart disease, and a 17% lower risk of dying from cancer.
Next time you need a little afternoon pick-me-up, brew a pot of green tea.
“Green tea is rich in quercetin, a plant flavonoid that exhibits antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties,” explains Dr. Vinjamoori.
A 2022 study in Molecules suggests quercetin can eliminate senescent cells—aging cells that have stopped dividing—which might contribute to delaying aging processes.
According to Dr. Vinjamoori, quercetin is believed to activate the SIRT1 gene, a crucial player in longevity and calorie restriction benefits, enhancing the body’s ability to repair DNA, and potentially slowing down the aging process.
Onions are the richest source of quercetin, the antioxidant that has a protective function against aging, as of 2022 Molecules study. And a 2021 randomized clinical trial in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition observed that eating quercetin-rich onions helped improve cognitive function. Luckily, there are so many ways to eat onions: Try caramelizing them with some extra-virgin olive oil and adding them to an omelette or slice them up and toss them into a hearty salad for added crunch.
Shunning complex carbs isn’t key to a longer life. In fact, folks who ate about 2.4 ounces of whole grains (which is equivalent to about 1.5 slices of whole-grain bread) each day were observed to have a lower risk of premature death compared to the group who ate fewer or no whole grains. according to a 2016 circulation study. If you’re not big on bread, you can include other nutrient-dense whole grains in your diet, such as wild rice, oatmeal, farro, and low-sugar whole-grain cereal.
Berries are packed with a specific type of antioxidant called flavonoids, which have been linked to a longer life. A British Journal of Nutrition the study looked at data from the Nurses Health Study, one of the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women that followed over 93,000 women over the course of decades. The researchers found a close link between eating flavonoid-rich foods—specifically blueberries and strawberries, as well as red wine, tea, and peppers—and a lower risk of all-cause mortality.