What to Eat If You Want to Live to 100

A nutritionist takes a look at the relationship between diet and longevity.

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Photo by: Bojan89

Bojan89

There are a few places on earth which have the highest percentage of people who live to a healthy and happy 100 years. They're called the "Blue Zones,” a term coined by Dan Buettner in a 2005 National Geographic article to highlight areas of the world where longevity is the norm.

Many characteristics play into a person’s life expectancy. However, diet seems to play a larger role than others in terms of increased longevity and decreased disability. Assessing these blue zones then allows us to unlock key habit choices that make living to 100 a possibility.

In all five blue zones, most of the diet is made up of pulses, greens, grains and nuts. Adding in more of these foods can help you live to a ripe old age.

Eat Mostly Plants, Especially Beans

Many of the longest-living populations in the world are lovers of pulses, the umbrella term for dried peas, beans and lentils. Blue Zone researchers found that legumes were the most important dietary predictor of survival among the elderly, regardless of their ethnicity. For every 20-gram increase in daily pulses intake, they found a 7 to 8% reduction in mortality hazard ratio.

It’s hard to find a more perfect food than dried beans, peas or lentils. They are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates. They’re also very low in fat, almost sodium-free and average roughly $1 a pound. Additionally, a single cup of beans contains roughly 16 grams of fiber, which increases satiety and helps to lower cholesterol.

Swapping out meat for plant-protein is associated with a lower risk of death from all causes. A recent observational study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed a 34 percent drop in mortality rate when participants swapped out processed red meat for plant protein, and a 19 percent decrease when they replaced eggs. You don’t have to become full on vegetarian or vegan to see the benefits, even replacing a few animal-based meals a week with pulses have positive benefits.

Front Load Your Calories

It’s like the old saying goes, “breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper.” Recent research supports front-loading your calories among the first meals of the day and making dinner your smallest meal. An Israeli study found that those who ate roughly half of their daily calories at breakfast lost an average of 19 pounds in 12 weeks. They also saw marketed drops in their triglycerides, glucose and insulin levels.

Cook Your Own Food

In most Blue Zones, eating out is a rarity.  Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients and you’re likely to eat a lesser variety of foods in a single meal. Eating out encourages you to try more food, which increases consumption. Compared to sitting down at a restaurant, cooking requires you to stand, mix and chop, boosting your daily activity. 

Additionally, cooking at home allows you to focus on adding in more fruits and vegetables. Compared to western diets, plant-based ones have been shown to slow the effects of aging by fighting free radicals and preventing cell damage. Blue Zone diets typically include two servings of vegetables per meal.

To learn more, visit Blue Zones.

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