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Nutrition’s Role in Longevity

What is the estimated life span?

Given optimal nutrition, the upper limit of the life span is now estimated as 130 years. With increasing interest in the aging process, numerous studies are investigating the effects of nutrition and physical activity on longevity. Research findings suggest that changes in your lifestyle may slow the aging process within the limits set by your genetic profile.

Can positive dietary changes increase longevity?

Since chronic diseases are the major cause of death, you may live a healthier and longer life by limiting foods that increase disease risk (such as foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium), while increasing nutrient-rich foods that decrease disease risk. Research shows that changes in eating habits can benefit health, even when these changes are made in older adulthood.

What foods are included in a healthful diet?

A balanced diet includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods and adequate fluids, with plenty of brightly colored vegetables and fruits, lean protein sources, and healthy fats. Healthful diets can be planned with inexpensive foods such as canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals, and low-fat dairy products. Specific foods that have received recent attention for their health-promoting properties include:

  • Fish – The American Heart Association recommends 2 servings per week of oily fish such as salmon, as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Berries – The antioxidants in blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries may promote cardiovascular and brain health by reducing oxidative damage and inflammation.

  • Nuts – Unsalted nuts such as almonds and walnuts contain healthy monounsaturated fats or omega-3 fatty acids, which may improve blood lipids and cardiovascular health.

  • Whole grains – These fiber-rich foods may protect against cancer and stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels.

  • Garlic – The antioxidant properties of crushed garlic may protect against chronic diseases and aging.

  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes and especially canned tomato products contain lycopene, another antioxidant that reduces cancer risk.

Is calorie restriction related to longevity?

Animal studies have shown that animals live longer and have fewer chronic diseases when their diets are restricted in calories. Researchers believe that a calorie-restricted diet helps to prevent oxidative damage that may lead to chronic diseases. In humans, moderate calorie restriction is beneficial for weight loss, which is associated with favorable changes in body fat, blood pressure, blood lipids, and glucose tolerance. A recent study showed that almost all centenarians (those persons at least 100 years old) are lean. So a healthful diet may be the one of the best medicines for a longer and healthier life!

This article originally appeared in Nutri-bytes (June 2008), a service of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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