Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Living Longer: Can Diet Make a Difference?


A long healthy life is no accident. It begins with good genes, but it also depends on good habits. If you adopt the right lifestyle, experts say, chances are you may live up to a decade longer. An article in National Geographic recently focused on several regions where people live significantly longer, Sardinia, Italy, the islands of Okinawa, and in a group of Seventh – Day Adventists, from Loma Linda, California. Residents of these three places produce a high rate of centenarians, suffer a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people in other parts of the developed world, and enjoy more healthy years of life.  One of the factors that scientists usually look is the diet of these populations.  In general, they eat more fruits, vegetables, and fiber than do many Western cultures.

Almost every day, new studies tout the antiaging properties of various foods. Maybe it’s soy, no, maybe it’s not.  Maybe it’s blueberries, a certain spice, olive oil, or whatever is tried to find the magic combination of foods we can add to our diets to prolong life.


So what should we believe?  No individual food alone can have the promised effects on health or longevity, since foods or the nutrients within them work synergistically at the cellular level.  Currently, antioxidants are the star players found in plant foods working to curb the effects of free radicals that do damage to our cells and DNA.  The “free radical theory” remains at the forefront of the current theories of aging and the onset of chronic diseases – heart disease, cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes type 2.

The older we get, the more free radicals we encounter and thus the battle gets more intense to provide more antioxidants to inhibit free radical damage, also called oxidative stress.  When we constantly hear that we should eat more fruits and vegetables, the reason is due to their antioxidant content.

Animal studies have used spinach, blueberries, and spirulina (a blue-green algae) and supplemented the diets of rats that had electrodes placed in their brains.  Other rats were fed either apples or cucumbers.  The surprising results were dramatic.  The spirulina and apple groups demonstrated improved neuron function, had a suppression of inflammatory substances in the brain and a decrease in oxidative damage.  No improvements occurred in the rats fed the cucumbers.

By the way, spirulina is often promoted as a “superfood” and does have protein, B-vitamins, and iron.  According to MedlinePlus, however, blue-green algae products are used for many conditions, but so far, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine whether or not they are effective for any of them.

Calorie Restriction

Calorie restriction has now been fairly established as the path to longevity in many animal species– in other words, just eat less.  A Spartan diet of 890 calories a day resulted in a decrease of fasting insulin levels and body temperature, two biomarkers of longevity. Why?  When you overeat and more energy comes into the cells than you burn off by being active, you produce more free radicals roaming around.

What’s the fun of living to a 100 if you’re subsisting on less than 1000 calories a day?  Another approach is to not count calories but to practice periodic fasting by skipping a meal here and there.  Research has shown this approach to calorie restriction can also help to eliminate free radicals quite well.  During our evolution, we did not have a constant food supply like we do now- our bodies are genetically in tune with fasting due to food shortages.

This advice may go against three square meals a day, but our past patterns of periodic fasting and eating a higher antioxidant diet more than likely was protective against free radicals and the chronic diseases we are faced with today.

Five Foods for Longevity

  1. Cranberries, blueberries, blackberries – Almost all berries are super antioxidant foods, but these three stand out from the pack.  They contain anthocyanins and polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory properties.  A cup a day is a goal.
  2. Leafy greens – Kale and spinach are standouts in this category. Studies support their role in the prevention of macular degeneration of the eye.  Try for a cup of cooked kale or one to two cups of cooked or raw spinach a day.
  3. Almonds  – good source of vitamin E, protein and fiber.  A 2008 study in the journal, Metabolism reported that almonds had an beneficial effect on glucose regulation and reduced insulin secretion as well as reduced oxidative stress.  Use them chopped or whole in stir-fries.  Ground almonds (almond meal) can also be used to replace at least a quarter of the flour in most recipes.  Due to their high calorie content, have ¼ cup once a day.
  4. Flaxseed – contains fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that encourage heart health.  Buy it ground (or grind it yourself in a coffee grinder) and add one tablespoon a day into meat loaf or muffins.
  5. Chocolate – contains flavonoids that are super antioxidants.  Add a teaspoon of plain cocoa powder (fewer calories and no sugar) to chili or stews.  Or indulge in one square a day of dark chocolate and look for at least 60-70% cocoa for the most antioxidant punch.


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3 thoughts on “Living Longer: Can Diet Make a Difference?

  1. Pingback: Living Longer: Can Diet Make a Difference? (via FOOD, FACTS and FADS) « doctorfoodtruth

  2. Pingback: How to Eat more Antioxidant Foods » The Spice Style

  3. It’s good to see some hard facts in an area that often gets only wild claims. Thanks for giving solid advice and sticking to the known rather than spreading guesses. Good stuff!


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