• Carrie Klaege

Eating Right to Extend Your Life

Maintaining a healthy diet and a focus on proper nutrition can add years to your life. Face-lifts, Botox injections, and other anti-aging procedures are all the rage — yet doctors still haven't developed a surgical procedure that will add years to your life (angioplasty doesn't count). "With enough money, you can always look good on the outside," says Ralph Felder, M.D., Ph.D., coauthor of The Bonus Years Diet. "Reversing the aging process internally is much more difficult." And while a healthy diet won't necessarily make you look like Demi Moore, it can extend your life.

To get some perspective on what proper nutrition and diet can mean for your health, think of your body as an engine — a machine. The higher the octane of the fuel you put into it, the better it's going to run. Now consider what might happen to your internal machinery after ten years of fueling up on double burgers, fries, and milkshakes: painfully slow blood flow, and hardened arteries. Not pretty.

Here's the good news: By changing your diet and starting to eat right, you can increase your chances for enjoying a longer life. Here's how to start:

Load up on super foods

Quit focusing on the obvious culprits (think steak with béarnaise, buttery mashed potatoes, and full-fat ice cream) and start loading up on healthful foods. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, eating seven "super" foods daily (red wine, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic, fish, and nuts), in the appropriate portion sizes can reduce your heart disease risk by 75 percent and add an average of six years to your life.

"The dark chocolate and fruits and vegetables lower your blood pressure. Garlic and nuts lower LDL cholesterol. Fish helps protect against cardiac arrhythmias, blood clotting, and inflammation," says Dr. Felder. "Together, these foods help protect the endothelium [the Teflon-like coating around your blood vessels] and reduce the risk of heart disease."

Slash your calorie intake

Since the 1930s, studies have shown that calorie-restricted diets improve the health and extend the life spans of rodents. Now researchers are learning that slashing calories may have similar beneficial effects in humans. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that two markers of longevity (fasting insulin level and body temperature) were lowered in humans through prolonged calorie restriction.

It has long been known that keeping excess pounds off can stave off disease as well as add years to your life. A study of more than 20,000 male health professionals found stroke risk to be 30 percent higher in those considered to be overweight — and twice as high in those considered obese — as compared with men whose weight was in the normal range. The study categorized these individuals by body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height. A BMI of 25 to 29 classifies an individual as "overweight," a BMI of 30 to 39 signifies "obesity," and a BMI of 40 or more signifies "morbid obesity.

"Even if you're at a healthy weight, preliminary research shows that slashing your daily caloric intake by one-third can add years to your life. "The trick isn't just to eat less but to make sure that what you do eat is loaded with nutrients," says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of The Healthiest Meals on Earth. "If most of your diet is plant foods, you can eat a phenomenally healthy (and filling) diet on 1,400 to 1,500 calories a day." Eat seven cups of spinach, for example, and you've consumed only 100 calories.

Go Mediterranean

Nutritionists consistently report that a Mediterranean-style diet — including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and a daily glass of red wine — promotes longevity. In fact, studies show that this type of diet lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and protects against serious health conditions ranging from cancer to stroke. In two separate studies, researchers found that "going Mediterranean" not only protects against Alzheimer's disease but also enables people who have the disease to live an average of four years longer. The more closely participants adhered to the diet, the greater the benefit they saw.

Emphasize a plant-based diet

You'd be hard pressed to find a nutrition expert who would argue against eating more fruits and vegetables. Plant foods are loaded with antioxidants, powerful disease-fighting chemicals that help counteract damage from free radicals, oxidation, stress, pollution, and other environmental toxins. "People who live a long time tend to eat a lot of plant foods," says Bowden. "These are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They're loaded with flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, and thousands of other chemicals we haven't even discovered yet — and all of them help prevent disease."

Paturel, A. (2020). Eating Right to Extend Your Life. [online] EverydayHealth.com. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/eating-right-to-extend-your-life.aspx [Accessed 12 Feb. 2020].

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