Nutrition for Health and Longevity

May 10, 2022

Nutrition for Health and Longevity
Nutrition and medical researchers have identified persistent inflammation as one of the worst offenders in aging, as
its factors predict the risk of virtually all chronic diseases. And since chronic diseases cause the majority of early
deaths, eating a diet that minimizes inflammation and the risk of chronic disease is key to increasing longevity and
quality of life.
Studies have shown that even people in their 70s and 80s who change their diets and other lifestyle factors show
improved markers for disease risk, particularly heart disease. Thus, everyone, even those already at risk from years
of unhealthy eating, can benefit from improved eating habits: consuming more nutrient- and fiber-rich fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and less fatty meat, high-fat dairy, and refined, processed foods.

First Things First: Eat a Balanced Diet
As people age, they tend to eat less food and fall into eating patterns that may minimize variety. This is due to many
factors, including loss of appetite, taste changes, teeth/denture issues, side effects from medication, eating on a
budget, and/or dependence on institutional meals. So it is especially important to maximize nutrient-dense foods in
the later years.
Last year, researchers at Tufts University’s Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston
published the new Food Pyramid (MyPyramid) for Older Adults. This eating guide emphasizes the importance of
consuming nutrient-dense foods, sufficient fluid intake, and specific recommendations for the basic food groups. It
advises brightly colored vegetables, deep-colored fruits, lean proteins, and healthy types of fat. A diet that adheres to
these guidelines will help lower the risk of chronic disease yet provide plenty of health-protective nutrients. For more
information, visit http://nutrition.tufts.edu/docs/pdf/releases/071220_ModifiedMyPyramid.pdf.
One noteworthy recommendation is consuming packaged (frozen and canned) fruits and vegetables in addition to
fresh produce. Many people believe that only fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy; on the contrary, packaged
varieties (without added salt or sugar) may be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts and perhaps even more so
since the food is processed soon after harvesting. This early processing protects the food from nutrient losses due to
heat, oxygen, and light.
These choices are easier to prepare and have a longer shelf life, minimizing waste. Canned and frozen fruits and
vegetables are often less expensive than fresh varieties, and they’re readily available when it’s more difficult for
people to get to a grocery store.

Centenarian Study: Lean Is Key
The New England Centenarian Study at the Boston University School of Medicine is the largest, most comprehensive
study of centenarians and their families. One goal of this study is to observe lifestyle factors that study subjects have
in common to try to determine the “secrets” of a long and healthy life. To date, no specific foods have been noted, but
the study has shown that almost all people who reach the age of 100 are lean, particularly men. Obesity may be
considered an actual risk factor for early death, so maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important dietary

Lessons From Okinawa
Okinawa, a group of 161 Japanese islands located between the country’s main islands and Taiwan, boasts the
world’s longest living people. They enjoy the lowest rates of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, the three leading
killers in the United States. The average Okinawan woman lives to the age of 86 and the average man to 78
compared with 79 and 72, respectively, in the United States. And they typically die of natural causes rather than
disease. What’s their secret?
A 25-year study on Okinawa, detailed in the book The Okinawa Program: How the World’s Longest-Lived People
Achieve Everlasting Health — and How You Can Too by Bradley J. Willcox, MD; D. Craig Willcox, PhD; and
Makoto Suzuki, MD, reveals myriad lifestyle factors, including diet, that lead to better health and longer life.
Obviously, native Okinawans follow their diets over a lifetime, so an open question is whether an older American can
derive any benefit from adopting an Okinawan diet plan. Studies are underway to determine the diet’s significance
later in life. In the meantime, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try mimicking the eating style that produces the world’s oldest
and healthiest people.

Okinawans eat an average of seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily, along with seven servings of grains, two
servings of soy products (rich in healthful flavonoids), omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish several times per week, very few
dairy products, and little meat. Specific healing foods and herbs appear to maximize the healing power of the
traditional Okinawan lifestyle, according to the study.

Water: Tried and Still True
Drinking plenty of fluids promotes cleansing, flushes toxins, ensures hydration, and helps maintain healthy skin,
helping people look and feel younger. In addition, adequate water intake reduces constipation and stress on the
kidneys. Seniors whose thirst mechanism has declined may need extra reminders to drink up.

Nuts for a Long Life
Researchers tracked 34,000 Seventh-Day Adventists in California beginning in the 1980s. After 12 years, they linked
the subjects’ consumption of nuts five to six times per week to a longer-than-average life expectancy. Frequent nut
consumers lived 1.5 to 2.5 years longer than nut avoiders, controlling for other factors. This could be due to the
protective fatty acids, excellent mineral content, wealth of phytonutrients, or the impressive overall profile of nuts as a
regular part of a healthful diet. However, many worry about weight gain. While it is true that they are high in fat, nuts
have not been shown to contribute to weight gain when eaten in moderation.

Mediterranean Diet: Worth a Try?
In 2007, the Archives of Internal Medicine reported the results of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and
Health Study, which followed the lifestyle habits of 380,000 people to determine which people died when, how, and
why. This study found that the closer a person’s diet conformed to the traditional Mediterranean eating plan, the lower
the risk of death. In fact, mimicking the traditional diets of Greece and southern Italy cuts the risk of death from all
causes by 20%.
Note that the Mediterranean diet is not only about eating lots of fish and olive oil. A healthful Mediterranean diet
focuses on vegetables, legumes (dried beans and peas), fruits, nuts (especially walnuts), whole grains, fish, and a
high monounsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio and deemphasizes alcohol and meat. Swapping burgers for fish and
loading up on fruits and veggies really can make a difference.

Seeing Green
Age-related macular degeneration affects the macula, the center of the retina’s inner lining. This progressive disease
gradually compromises sharp vision, making it difficult to see details and recognize faces. While there is no cure,
research has demonstrated ways to help prevent, as well as slow, the progression of the disease.
Many studies have shown a protective effect of lutein, a phytochemical found mainly in leafy green vegetables and in
some other foods. Think of these foods as sunblock for your eyes. Eat leafy green vegetables, especially dark ones
such as kale, collards, and chard, on a regular basis for their lutein, as well as their wealth of other disease-fighting

Spice It Up
Many recent studies have focused on “herbs and spices’ health-protective properties. For example, sage, oregano,
turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon have all been shown to lower fasting blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Better blood sugar control means prolonged health and lower risk of damage from diabetes-related maladies.

Dried Fruit: Nature’s Candy
Dried fruits such as figs and dates are chock-full of fiber and potassium, which help regulate blood pressure. They
pack in many times more antioxidants than other fruits. A 2004 Harvard study showed that eating three or more
servings of high-antioxidant fruit per day lowered the risk of age-related maculopathy by 36% in people aged 50 and
older. To check the antioxidant content of common foods, consult the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity
database at http://ars.usda.gov/services/docs.htm?docid=15866.

Keeping the Brain Sharp With Açai and Other Berries
Age-related diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have no cure, but research suggests
that diets rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds may lower the risk of developing age-
related neurodegenerative diseases. Such compounds, notably anthocyanins, are abundant in berries and may lower
oxidative stress and inflammation, thereby promoting brain health. Açai berries (available dried, frozen, as juice, and
as a powder) have the highest level of antioxidants but, of course, they’re not a miracle cure (nor are they very tasty
solo). It’s not about choosing from only the top of the antioxidant list; it’s about choosing an abundance of antioxidant-

rich foods daily. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and others are good choices, along with other
high-antioxidant foods.

Ginger for Healthy Joints
Older adults at risk of or suffering from arthritis may want to try ginger to extend pain-free years. Ginger is known to
exhibit anti-inflammatory effects that work directly on the joints to help relieve arthritis. One Danish study shows that
among patients taking ginger, more than 75% experienced relief in pain and swelling from arthritis.

Go Fish?
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health recently weighed the risks and benefits of consuming fish. The
researchers concluded that the disease risk-reduction benefits of consuming one to two servings of fish per week
outweighed the potential harm from mercury exposure, possibly helping to extend healthy years.
Myriad studies have focused on the beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. These fats help reduce
inflammation and protect the integrity of cell membranes from free radical damage. Omega-3 fatty acids may help
protect people from age-related neurodegenerative disease, cognitive decline, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.
For those who dislike fish or are vegetarians, other excellent sources of omega-3 fats include flaxseed and flax oil,
canola oil, walnuts, soybeans, hemp seeds, and large amounts of leafy green vegetables.

Green Tea Covers the Bases
Scientific literature includes studies on the benefits of green tea. Green tea drinkers reap the potential benefits of the
prevention of and/or treatment for cancer, heart disease, skin conditions, atherosclerosis, stress, viruses, arthritis,
and type 2 diabetes. Theoretically, these bioactive chemicals protect the body from oxidative damage and help
maintain the integrity of the cells’ DNA and membrane structure. No wonder so many healthy older adults worldwide
drink green tea.

The Big Picture
We all want long, healthy, disease-free lives. And we all know that healthy eating, stress management, exercise, and
other positive lifestyle habits help us move closer to this goal. Take advantage of myriad healthful and interesting
foods known to improve health and help incorporate the science of disease prevention and longevity into your eating