What Science-Backed Foods Are at the Forefront of Better Health and Increased Longevity?
Most of us would love the opportunity to live longer, which is why we constantly seek out new ways to maximize our health and gain longevity. It's true, however, that how long we live is influenced by a myriad of factors—not all of which are in our control—from genetics to our environment and plain old luck. But doctors agree that the factors that are inside our control should not be discounted, especially when it comes to the food we eat.
In fact, according to The Global Burden of Disease Study of 2017, which was published in the journal The Lancet, dietary risk factors are estimated to account for 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years. "How we fuel our body dictates how we feel, our short and long-term health, how long we live, and how western diseases develop in our body," explains Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractic, and functional medicine physician at Lakeside Holistic Health. "Simply changing your diet from a western diet (heavy in simple grains, simple sugars, red meat, and dairy and low in vegetables and fruits) to a more optimal one has shown to decrease all causes of mortality and diseases while increasing life expectancy." In other words, food is fuel for our bodies—and, depending on the quality and type of foods we put into them, we can either support and enhance our body's defenses or damage them and become more vulnerable to disease. Ahead is a look at some of the foods that have been shown not only to lead to better health, but also to expand our lifespans.
You probably know that most vegetables provide nutrients your body needs to thrive, but the cruciferous subset (including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) may be a cut above the rest. In fact, a study published in Pharmacological Research found that specific compounds found in cruciferous veggies, such as the antioxidant sulforaphane, may help lower the number of carcinogens in the body, thus reducing a person's risk of cancer. "Sulforaphane protects cells from damage, calms inflammation, and protects DNA from mutations that could cause cancer," explains Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D.N., and author. She recommends tossing chopped broccoli and cauliflower with olive oil into a pan and roasting until fork-tender or puréeing steamed broccoli and cauliflower to add to soups and stews.
Along with cruciferous vegetables, dark, leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and kale (which is also a cruciferous veggie), are dense with nutrients that give them their intense color, including vitamins K, A and C. They are also rich in folate and iron and contain a few grams of both dietary fiber and protein, notes dietitian and National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Roxana Ehsani, R.D. Researchers behind a study published by the National Institute on Aging found that individuals who eat dark leafy greens daily had a slower rate of cognitive decline. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends consuming one-and-a-half cups of dark leafy greens per week, which Eshani recommends eating raw (in salads, smoothies, or sandwiches) or lightly sautéed.
Beans are chock full of nutrients that support healthy aging. Not only are beans a plant-based source of protein, but they are also higher in fiber with potent antioxidants, notes Dr. Bailey. One review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition found that consuming beans, as well as other legumes such as lentils and peas, can reduce a person's risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and diabetes—major issues that contribute to a reduced life expectancy. Legumes are digested slowly, and they help you feel fuller for longer, which can also promote a healthy weight, notes Ward.
Oily and fatty cold-water fish like salmon, herring, and tuna, are a great dietary addition to your longevity plan. These fish contain higher levels of omega-3 fats, lean protein, B-vitamins, selenium, and iron, all of which offer health benefits such as lowering the risk of heart disease, explains Dr. Bailey. Research published in the US Physician Health Study affirms this—a team found that consuming fish at least once per week reduced the risk of cardiac death by 55 percent. Another meta-analysis printed in the World Journal of Gastroenterology linked fish consumption to a reduction in gastrointestinal cancer. "Having two meals containing four ounces of seafood per week is a great way to improve these important health markers and longevity," says Dr. Bailey. "Baked, grilled, broiled, or steamed are simple ways to prepare seafood. Mix fish into bowls with vegetables, tacos, and burritos or combine it with dark green leafy vegetables (including cruciferous) and a side of Adzuki beans for a power-packed, health-producing, longevity-creating, reverse-aging meal."
All fruit contains health-boosting properties, but berries are especially rich in longevity-aiding antioxidants. "Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and other berries pack anthocyanins, a class of phytonutrients, can help reduce your risk of certain diseases," says Ward. One such antioxidant, anthocyanins, has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, according to a study published in the journal Medicine. "Add berries to cold or cooked breakfast cereal, stir them into plain yogurt, and use fresh berries instead of sugary jelly or jam on toast or in a sandwich, such as fresh raspberries and peanut butter," says Ward. "Purée fresh or frozen berries and use those instead of maple syrup on pancakes or as a dip for French toast cut into sticks."
Whole grains like bulgur, quinoa, barley, faro, buckwheat, oats, and millet are incredibly nutritious and may help you live longer. In fact, one study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that eating whole grains over a 25-year period reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. "Thanks to their nutritious dose of dietary fiber, whole grains, when consumed regularly, can lower LDL cholesterol (the bad one), triglycerides, and blood pressure," says Ehsani. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that half of your grain intake be from whole grains.