These days, it seems that we’re obsessed with aging. Or rather, we’re obsessed with preventing aging. Botox and lip fillers have become the new normal (which is cool) and anti-aging creams promising wrinkle-free faces and youthful glows are taking over the skincare aisle. Influencers are even starting to tape their faces in a DIY facelift hack that’s gone viral on TikTok.
But for all our attempts at staying young, we might not be doing such a good job. One study found that measures of physical health have worsened from the baby boomer generation to Gen Y. While they couldn’t prove why this may be true, it’s no secret that the foods we eat (or don’t eat) can be a big factor in how we age—and how long we live. Enter the longevity diet.
What is the Longevity Diet?
Google “longevity diet” and you’ll get a dizzying amount of results, from the Mediterranean diet to intermittent fasting to something called the Okinawa diet.
One of the most popular you’ll find is the blue zones diet, which is currently all over social media. The blue zones are five regions around the world where their residents have the longest lifespans.
“In looking at these populations there is a clear association between diet, activity level, stress levels, and length of life,” Joanna Gregg, MS, RD, says, adding however, that research shows that gender and sex also play a part in the aging process.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all longevity diet, there are a bunch of similarities between the diets associated with people who tend to live longer. Below are Gregg’s top nutrition tips for better aging based on science.
1. Whole foods
All of the most popular longevity diets have one thing in common: They’re all centered around whole foods that are nutrient-dense and minimally processed food. Take the Okinawa diet, which is one of the blue zones diets. “This diet, which promotes foods low in glycemic load and high in fiber and antioxidants, leads to lower incidence of chronic diseases which is likely the reason for increased longevity in these regions,” Gregg says.
2. Plenty of plants
While whole foods overall are great, longevity diets commonly suggest that those that come from plants are even better. “Fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are front and center in each of these diets making antioxidants more abundant to support the gut microbiome and aid in preventing cell damage,” Gregg explains.
3. Lean protein
“There is very little red meat in any of these diets with the majority of protein coming from plant or fish sources,” Gregg says. Some quality plant-based protein sources include beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds.
4. A healthy caloric intake
Maintaining a healthy weight through appropriate calorie consumption is a key factor in longevity.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is associated with multiple health benefits including the decreased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. And preventing these chronic illnesses—plus maintaining a healthy body weight—promotes healthy aging.
Gregg points out that some research in animals also shows calorie restriction via fasting may slow the aging process through improved cellular regeneration and anti-inflammatory processes, but no human study has reciprocated this claim.
As always, we recommend you consult with your physician before starting any new diet, including any fasting regimen.
Don’t eat (or at least reduce):
1. Saturated fat
Limiting your intake of saturated fat—which is found in foods like red meat, dairy, and baked goods—can help improve your longevity, Gregg says. The Mediterranean diet, for instance, encourages eating little to no red meat.
2. Processed foods
Whether it’s the handful of Cheez-its you grab every afternoon or the Lean Cuisine meal you heat up on a busy weeknight, processed foods are convenient—but they aren’t doing you any favors in terms of aging. They tend to be high in sodium, fat, and calories (and often preservatives) and low in nutrition.
3. Extreme diets
The best diet is the one that you can actually stick to (and not hate your life doing so). While some people swear by fasting diets or low-calorie plans, Gregg cautions that these may be too restrictive and thus unsustainable for the long term. Instead, try focusing on building a healthy plate.
4. Fad supplements.
“Be wary of foods or supplements that market ‘healthy aging’ products,” Gregg says. “More often than not these claims are hyped and have not been scientifically proven.”
Keep in mind that nutrition isn’t the only factor in longevity—physical activity matters, too. Daily exercise is significantly related to happiness and life satisfaction along with decreased risk of chronic disease.
“Overall, the ‘longevity diet’ is not a diet for weight loss but a lifestyle aimed at slowing the aging process via healthier choices, which ultimately lead to decreased risk of morbidity and promote a longer, happier and healthier life,” Gregg explains.
So, want to live well longer? Eat at well (with MyFitnessPal). Move well. Age well.