The right diet—plus a healthy lifestyle—can lengthen a woman’s life by up to 15 years and a man’s by up to eight years, according to a recent study of more than 120,800 adults, published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The researchers tracked older adults for 10 years and analyzed the combined effects of a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a normal weight.
Many other studies confirm that eating certain delicious superfoods regularly trims risk for heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. These foods can help also keep you mentally sharp, and could lengthen your life significantly. Here’s a look at seven nutritional powerhouses that could help you live to 100—or beyond.
Whole grains. A 2011 study of more than 500,000 people was the first to link a high-fiber diet to longer life. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Association of Retired People (AARP) reported that fiber from whole grains, such as barley, buckwheat, oats, whole wheat, quinoa, rye, brown or wild rice, and amaranth, appeared the most beneficial at reducing the risk of death in older adults during the nine-year study.
Men ages 50 or older who ate the most fiber were up to 56 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease (the leading killer of Americans), infectious diseases, and respiratory disorders during the study, while a high-fiber diet cut women's mortality from these causes by up to 59 percent. A study by the World Cancer Research Fund also reported that if we ate more fiber—and less red meat—more than 64,000 cases of cancer would be prevented each year.
Orange and dark green vegetables. These nutritional superstars may lengthen life and cut risk for cancer and other diseases, according a study of more than 15,000 people. The magic antioxidant contained in these foods appears to be alpha-carotene, Centers for Disease Control researchers suggested.
People with the highest high blood levels of alpha-carotene—found in pumpkins, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, kale, romaine lettuce, and other orange or dark green vegetables—were 39 percent less likely to die during the long-term study, which began in 1988. They also had a lower rate of certain cancers, even when smoking and other risks were taken into account.
Berries. Older women who eat the most strawberries and blueberries had the slowest rate of age-related mental decline, new findings from the Harvard Nurses study report. The brain-booster may be anthocyanidins, a flavonoid with potent effects on memory and learning. It also reduces levels of C-reaction protein, an inflammatory marker linked to heart attack risk, another Harvard study reported.
People who eat lots of strawberries are three times less likely to develop certain cancers, including those of the breast, skin, bladder, lungs, and esophagus. And those who consume the most fruits and vegetables enjoy a 25 percent lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), compared to those who eat the least, a European study of 313,000 people found.
Dark chocolate. Amazing but true: eating dark chocolate could actually save your life by dramatically reducing risk for heart attacks and stroke, new research shows. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain more disease-fighting antioxidants than do acai and other “superfruits,” according to a peer-reviewed study published in Chemistry Central Journal.
People who eat the most chocolate are 37 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease—the leading killer of Americans—and 29 percent less likely to suffer a stroke, compared to those who eat the least, according to an analysis of studies involving 114,009 participants. One of the most surprising findings was that indulging in the sweet treat trims diabetes risk by 31 percent, researchers reported in British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Almonds. Another BMJ article suggests that eating six foods daily—almonds, dark chocolate, wine, garlic, and fruits and vegetables—plus fish four times a week could cut risk for cardiovascular disease by 76 percent. Based on earlier research, the scientists estimated that men who follow this diet could add an average of 6.6 years to their life and women could add 4.8 years.
The Harvard Nurses Study reports that eating nuts regularly, instead of the same amount of calories from carbs, trims heart disease risk by 30 percent. And surprising as it sounds, these high-calorie nibbles also help you avoid packing on pounds. According to a study in Obesity, weight gain was 31 percent less likely for people who eat nuts at least twice a week, versus those avoided them.
Oily fish. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and other oily fish—along with pecans, walnuts and flaxseed—are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that enhance longevity, raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and improve brain function. The emphasis on oily fish is thought to be one reason why the Japanese enjoy the world’s longest lifespan.
Studies of “blue zones”—areas with unusually high numbers of people ages 100 or older, such as Okinawa and Sardinia—find that while the inhabitants’ diets vary, they usually include fish. Portion control is key to long life: Okinawan centenarians stay lean and healthy with a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu (only eating until they feel 80 percent full).
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