How A Healthy Diet Can Help You Live Longer

By: Holly L. Thacker, MDDr. Anna Camille Moreno • Posted on January 23, 2020

How A Healthy Diet Can Help You Live Longer How A Healthy Diet Can Help You Live Longer

As we enter this new decade of the roaring 20s it's a time to reflect on the decade that has past and the decade that is ahead. With each passing year, we all age.

Longevity and Diets

Much has been in the news regarding anti-aging from intermittent fasting to the benefits of Metformin/Glucophage®. With each new year many of us commit to new diets and exercise.

Recently, US News released their annual assessment of the year's 35 Best Diets. For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean Diet remains the Best Diet overall.

Certainly some diets are fads and not healthy. People have different effects with some diets based on their genetic makeup as well as their social networks and life meaning.

5 Regions of the World With the Highest Life Expectancy

There is more than just healthy diet and exercise though that appear linked to a long lifespan. In 2004, journalist Dan Beuttner teamed up with National Geographic and a team of top longevity researchers to find pockets of people around the world with the highest life expectancy, or with the highest proportions of people who reach age 100. They studied five regions, which they called "Blue Zones":

  1. Barbagia region of Sardinia
  2. Ikaria, Greece
  3. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  4. Seventh Day Adventists in the Loma Linda, CA region
  5. Okinawa, Japan

In these Blue Zones areas, they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the US in general.

There are 9 common denominators among these populations

  1. Move Naturally – They live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
  2. Purpose – They know/live with a sense of purpose or "why I wake up in the morning."
  3. Down Shift – They have routines and rituals to regularly shed stress.
  4. 80% Rule – They stop eating before they are full (80%). They also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more.
  5. Plant Slant – Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck or cards.
  6. Wine @ 5 – Most (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately.
  7. Belong – Most of centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Religion/denomination doesn’t seem to matter.
  8. Loved Ones First – Successful centenarians put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home, committing to a life partner, and investing in children with time and love.
  9. Right Tribe – They choose/were born into groups that support healthy behaviors.

These 10 simple guidelines below reflect how the world’s longest-lived people ate for most of their lives. The focus is not on losing weight. Rather, weight loss will become the natural byproduct of a healthy approach to eating, which unlike most "diets," is designed to be a sustainable way of life.

10 healthy eating guidelines

  1. 95/5 Rule - Eat mostly plants: 90-95 percent of intake should be vegetables, grains, greens, fruits and beans. Can include a cup (cooked) of whole grains daily.
  2. Retreat from Meat - Though some consumed meat, eating meat is not recommended as a significant portion of the diet if at all.
  3. Take or Leave Fish – Many "Blue Zones" diets included fish up to three times weekly. But, modern-day fish has become so contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals that it is not recommended unless the source is known.
  4. Diminish Dairy – Limit or avoid. If cheese is used, try small portions of sheep (pecorino) or goat (feta) cheese to flavor foods. If you eat eggs, limit to 3/week.
  5. Daily Beans - Eat a cup of beans daily. All beans count, including tofu. If you buy canned beans, avoid added salt, sugar and chemicals.
  6. Slash Sugar - Consume only 28 grams (7 teaspoons) of added sugar daily. Avoid foods with more than 8 grams of sugar. Make honey your go-to sweetener.
  7. Primarily Drink Water - Six glasses daily. Feel free to drink unsweetened teas and coffee. Wine in moderation. Avoid all sugar-sweetened and diet sodas.
  8. Snack on Nuts - Eat a handful of nuts daily: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and Brazil nuts.
  9. Limit Bread - Eat only 100 percent whole grain breads or authentic sourdough from live cultures. Limit bread to two slices daily. Choose whole grain corn tortillas over flour tortillas. Avoid white breads and wraps.
  10. Eat Whole Foods - Try to eat only whole foods or foods processed with fewer than five ingredients.

If it’s made in a manufacturing plant, avoid it! If it's a real plant, that is a fruit or a vegetable, eat it!

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Holly L Thacker MD and Camille Moreno DO

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Her special interests are menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health. Dr. Thacker is the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause.

Anna Camille Moreno, DO is a Family Medicine Doctor at Duke Women's Health Associates. Dr. Moreno is dedicated to an interdisciplinary women’s health practice focusing on the care of midlife women as it relates to menopause, perimenopause, hormone therapy, and their associated medical problems. Dr. Moreno is a graduate of the Specialized Women's Health Fellowship Program at Cleveland Clinic.


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