Living into our hundreds conjures up images of sci-fi movies with magic anti-aging pills and bionic organs. Turns out, the secret to living longer isn’t actually a secret at all. According to the biggest study on longevity, the Grant & Glueck studies out of Harvard, making it healthily and happily to old age requires a number of lifestyle habits: not smoking, having an active social life, getting plenty of exercise, keeping a healthy weight, and eating the right foods. Although you need to maintain all these habits at once to reap the longevity benefits, there’s no denying that what you eat plays a big role beyond how it affects your waistline.
These are the foods that Eat This, Not That! editors have found can help turn back your biological clock. Although no one food can extend your life by itself, it’s important to incorporate all of these foods into your diet. Whether they’re chock-full of antioxidants, can help lower the amount of “bad” cholesterol, or are good for your blood sugar, these foods will help you stave off chronic, life-threatening disease, and age gracefully into your golden years and beyond. Looking for more ways to extend your life? Check out our essential report: 35 Secret Ways to Age Backwards.
Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, arugula, mesclun, and romaine are some of the healthiest foods on the planet. In fact, in a study conducted by William Paterson University, the top 15 nutrient-dense produce were all greens. These leafy greens should be the basis of a healthy diet to combat disease-causing inflammation and heart disease. People who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day decreased their risk of death by 15 percent, according to a study published in Experimental Biology.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which has been deemed the best diet for living longer. Researchers believe the heavy presence of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats in EVOO is a major factor. Extra virgin olive oil also contains potent antioxidants called polyphenols, which may help protect your brain. Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that these antioxidants have beneficial effects on learning and memory deficits, and could help reverse age-related cognitive decline.
Almonds are like nature’s perfect snack; they’re rich in fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats. They can also help you live longer. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that those who ate the most nuts had a lower risk of dying of any disease, particularly of cancer, heart disease, or respiratory disease.
Like almonds, walnuts also contain hearty levels of good-for-you monounsaturated fats and can help lower bad cholesterol. They may also help prevent cognitive decline; a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that eating walnuts was associated with better memory. Researchers believe it’s the antioxidants in walnuts that could be the reason.
Avocados are more than just a trendy toast topping; the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats could help lower cholesterol, and stave off heart disease. These healthy fats also help you eat less by keeping you feeling fuller, longer. And there could be some powerful disease-fighting components; a study published in the journal Cancer Research found that molecules in avocados targeted stem cells of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which is an aggressive cancer that kills 90 percent of people who are diagnosed over the age of 65.
One of the secrets to a healthy diet is getting enough fiber, which is key to suppressing your appetite and keeping blood sugar low. Chia seeds are surprisingly full of fiber, packing an impressive 11 grams in just two tablespoons. It can also help lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes; a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who increased their dietary fiber intake significantly lowered their risk of death. Chia seeds are easy to throw into yogurt, smoothies, or top your salad with.
People tend to steer clear of carb-heavy meals, like oatmeal, but this fiber-rich grain can help regulate cholesterol. Oatmeal contains beta-glucan, which has been shown to reduce levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. It helps block cholesterol from entering your bloodstream, according to a review in the journal Food & Function.
Although egg yolks have gotten a bad rap because of their dietary cholesterol, more recent studies have found that eating eggs can actually help your cholesterol by improving your HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Eggs can also help regulate blood sugar; a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that middle-aged and older men who ate four eggs a week had lower blood sugar and a 38 percent lower risk of diabetes than those who ate one egg a week.
Red fruits and vegetables are full of crucial vitamins, minerals, and red and orange bell peppers especially have powerful antioxidants. They’re an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Red bell peppers also contain phytochemicals and carotenoids, which are antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, like hot peppers, red bell peppers also contain the metabolism-boosting capsaicin. There’s a reason bell peppers are one of our 6 Best Veggies for Weight Loss.
Blueberries are chock-full of antioxidants, which are some of your most powerful weapons against aging. Antioxidants help ward off disease and can fight inflammation. Blueberries can also be good for your brain; one small study found that older adults who drank blueberry juice for 12 weeks scored higher on memory tests than those who were given a placebo.
Yogurt is one of our favorite foods, especially protein-packed Greek yogurt. But the live cultures in yogurt are what will keep you alive longer. Probiotic-rich foods can help fight inflammation, and a study out of Japan found that participants who ate probiotic-rich foods lived longer than those who didn’t. To cut down on inflammation-causing sugar, it’s best to go for an unsweetened version, and jazz it up yourself with fresh fruit and nuts. For our favorite waist-whittling yogurts, check out the 25 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss.
Inflammation can age your body fast, putting you at risk for weight gain, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Tomatoes can help fight inflammation, thanks to the presence of lycopene. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, lycopene has also been linked to lowering LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.
An apple a day keeps the doctor — and the Grim Reaper — away. The healthy fiber from the skin can help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes; a study published in BMJ found that eating whole fruits, especially apples, can lower your risk of developing the chronic disease. Plus, apples have been shown to boost your immune system, which will help you fight off disease.
Your morning coffee habit doesn’t just wake you up in the morning, it could also save your life. Research conducted by Stanford Medicine found that caffeine, like the levels found in coffee, can help fight off disease-causing chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other life-threatening chronic illnesses. The research also reviewed another study published in the journal Nature Medicine, and found that study participants who had the most caffeine intake had the lowest levels of inflammation.
Beans may be the musical fruit, but they are also great for regulating blood sugar. A study that followed 64,000 women for an average of 4.6 years found that people who ate more beans were associated with a 38 percent reduced risk of diabetes.
Green tea is one of our favorite foods for weight loss; it’s been shown to rev up your metabolism, squash hunger, quell stress, and shrink fat cells. In addition to keeping weight off, it also has anti-aging benefits. It can help regulate cholesterol, and prevent sun damage on your skin, leading some researchers to believe it could help slow down the growth of certain cancer cells.
This hulk-hued tea is the ultimate weight loss enabler and the perfect way to boost your metabolism. That’s because the tea leaves contain catechins called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. A study in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research shows that the high EGCG and polyphenol content in green tea makes it a more potent anti-inflammatory than any other tea—so drink up! Kelly Choi first discovered the weight-loss powers of tea when her mother, suffering from a terrible battle with diabetes, asked her to help design a tea cleanse for her. As a former nurse in Korea, she already knew the power of this lifesaving drink. Sure enough, with the plan she and Kelly designed together—The 7-Day Flat Belly Tea Cleanse—she dropped an amazing 9 pounds in just a week, and brought her blood sugar under control.
If you like spicy food, you may be in luck; hot peppers have proven to extend your life. A Chinese study found that people who ate spicy food three to five days a week reduced their risk of dying by 15 percent. The key ingredient is the capsaicin, researchers believe; capsaicin also has anti-inflammatory properties and can rev up your metabolism. Hot sauce may be the closest thing we have to a miracle anti-aging supplement.
A diet with fatty fish, including salmon, will help slow an aging heart. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood pressure and can help prevent heart disease. It’s not just good for your heart; salmon can help protect your brain, too. Alzheimer’s has been linked to inflammation, and omega-3 is a known inflammation-fighter.
Eschewing refined white carbohydrates, including bread, rice, and sugar, for more complex carbs like brown rice, quinoa, barley, and wheat, is known to help you lose weight. But it can also help you live longer; a review from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that in the 12 studies they reviewed, people who ate 70 grams of whole grains each day had a lower risk of premature death, compared to the group who ate fewer or no whole grains.
Dark chocolate (think: more than 75% cacao) is full of antioxidants, which could help stave off disease and help you live longer. It’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory food; a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dark chocolate can help prevent and repair cellular damage caused by inflammation because of the antioxidants flavanols. And for more age-defying tips, click here for 10 Ways to Age Like a Celebrity.