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Eat Like You Want to Live to 100 Years Old

Experts tell us that nutritional tweaks can boost longevity and improve your quality of life.
María Cristina Lalonde
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María Cristina Lalonde

Back in the 1920s, Americans could expect to live to their mid-50s. One hundred years later, the average life expectancy of people in the U.S. has skyrocketed to more than 77 years.

Today, many children born in the United States and other wealthy nations have a good chance to see age 100, once a fabled and rare milestone.

If you're interested in joining the coveted centenarian club, the path to membership is largely in your own hands. Or rather, on your own plate. Combine healthy nutrition with daily exercise and plenty of sex, and you can extend your life by up to 10 years, as has been suggested by mounting research.

"General principles of healthy eating—coupled with regular physical activity—remain the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle aimed to concomitantly promote longevity and quality of life," said Marco Infante, M.D., Ph.D., an endocrinologist based in Rome and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition. "Optimizing the quality, quantity and even the timing of nutrition holds great potential for preventing chronic degenerative diseases and promoting health span."

March is National Nutrition Month, and the 2023 theme is "Fuel for the Future" to encourage us to eat with longevity in mind. In honor of the monthlong celebration of sustenance, we asked doctors and nutritionists for advice for anyone who wants to tweak their lifestyle for the better. Here are seven tips to extend your life span with the foods you eat.

1. Adopt a Mediterranean diet

In a previous article in our National Nutrition Month series, Infante named the Mediterranean diet as one that supports sexual health. The diet is characterized by adequate consumption of fruits, vegetables of all types, whole grains, high-quality protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and extra virgin olive oil, he said.

He also recommended the diet as a way to slow the aging process, saying foods included in the Mediterranean way of eating help prevent "inflammageing," or the chronic inflammation that helps accelerate aging.

"Inflammageing is associated with a greater susceptibility to a disability, frailty, chronic morbidity and premature death," he added.

The effects of inflammageing can be reduced through healthy lifestyle interventions, including adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean one.

Infante said certain nutrients, such as vitamin D (found in foods like tuna, morel mushrooms and eggs) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in foods like salmon, walnuts and chia seeds), have been shown to be particularly helpful in preventing inflammation and age-related diseases.

2. Eat until you are 80 percent full

When pressed for advice on how to eat for longevity, Houston dietitian Tiffany Champagne-Langabeer, Ph.D., R.D.N., quoted a saying originating from Okinawa, Japan, one of the world's "blue zones" where people famously live longer, healthier lives.

"Hara hachi bu," she said, "which means 'Eat until you are 80 percent full.'"

Many people are accustomed to eating until they're 100 percent full, past satiation, which can pack on pounds over time. Stopping at 80 percent can help prevent overeating and reduce the risk of obesity, which is associated with higher rates of death.

To identify when you're 80 percent full, Champagne-Langabeer suggested trying a strategy called "mindful eating." This approach involves slowing down during mealtime and paying full attention to your food, moment by moment, free of judgment.

"Slowing down to understand your hunger and satiety patterns versus when you may be eating for other reasons is important," she added. "You are better able to make solid food choices that support your health in the long run."

3. Make every bite count

Carol Bradley, Ph.D., R.D.N., a nutritionist based in Lufkin, Texas, reminded everyone of the rallying cry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Make every bite count."

"That means focusing on healthy foods and beverages that are rich in nutrients," she clarified. "About 85 percent of your foods every day should be from nutrient-rich foods."

That leaves only 15 percent of your calories for treats such as alcohol and added sugars, she noted.

Spend your calorie budget wisely by choosing foods that pack the highest amount and variety of nutrients. These foods may include nuts, salmon, kale, quinoa, sweet potatoes and seaweed.

4. Take a break from eating

Infante suggested intermittent fasting, an increasingly trendy practice of alternating periods of eating with periods of fasting, may play a significant role in helping maintain a healthy weight and increase longevity.

Research published in February 2022 linked intermittent fasting to weight loss and improved cardiometabolic risk factors, such as blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and insulin resistance.

"A specific form of intermittent fasting is time-restricted eating, which consists in eating only within a prescribed window of time each day," Infante explained.

Citing a recent study published in August 2022, he noted that time-restricted eating—where participants ate early in the day for an eight-hour period and fasted the rest of the day—was indicated to be effective for losing weight and improving blood pressure and mood disturbances.

Infante acknowledged, however, that more research is needed on the subject of intermittent fasting to fully understand its long-term safety and effects. For now, the practicality of intermittent fasting should be evaluated on an individual basis, he said.

5. Eat plenty of polyphenols and antioxidants

"At all stages of life, you should aim to eat a diet rich in polyphenols," Champagne-Langabeer recommended.

Polyphenols are a class of plant compounds found naturally in foods such as fruits and berries, vegetables, herbs, spices, tea and dark chocolate. Called "life span essentials," polyphenols work as antioxidants, helping to fight back against environmental threats.

"They're essential in cleaning up the damage after your body heals from bacterial or viral infections and eliminates toxins from the environment," she added.

6. Limit alcohol

Champagne-Langabeer and Bradley both encouraged people to cut back on their alcohol intake.

Champagne-Langabeer added that studies have indicated some benefits of limited wine consumption.

"However, no study advocates for alcohol consumption," she noted. "To be clear, alcohol in any form is a toxin for our body that must be processed and removed."

The American Cancer Society calls alcohol one of the most important preventable risk factors for cancers, along with smoking and being overweight.

"If you drink, do so in moderation and for celebration," Champagne-Langabeer suggested.

7. Sip on adaptogens

Instead of alcohol, Champagne-Langabeer suggested sipping on adaptogen-infused drinks.

"Adaptogens are a group of traditional, medicinal plants that help our bodies 'adapt,' become more resilient and avoid the overwhelm," she explained. "Consumed daily, they can reduce anxiety, calm the nervous system, boost memory and improve cognitive function."

Adaptogens include the ashwagandha herb, the cordyceps fungus, the eleuthero shrub and maca root, in addition to medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, lion's mane, chaga and king oyster.

"Look for them at your grocery or health food store," Champagne-Langabeer advised.

Many adaptogens are sold as teas or tinctures, or as powders you can blend into smoothies.

Eating for environmental sustainability, too

It's worth noting that "Fuel for the Future," the theme of this year's nutrition month, refers to eating for environmental sustainability as well as personal longevity. The two nutritionists both agreed that the two concepts should go hand in hand.

"When we eat in a way that sustains our health, we sustain the environment as well," Champagne-Langabeer said. "When we slow down, select quality ingredients and

carefully prepare our meals, we are attuned to the rhythms of nature and our impacts on the


To eat for longevity and environmental sustainability, Bradley recommended looking for foods that are in season in your area by checking your state's department of agriculture website.

"When you eat foods that are in season, they're going to be at their peak of flavor and their peak of nutritional value," Bradley said.