We all want to do what we can to live a long and happy life. And it’s no secret that what we eat plays a role in this.

For example, eating too much processed food, refined sugar, and animal protein is known to increase our risk of health conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – which can lower our life expectancy.

Up until fairly recently, scientists believed that lifespan was down to genetics alone – but studies have since revealed that around 75% of longevity is determined by lifestyle habits. There’s currently no specific ‘longevity diet’, but research shows that certain habits can have a big impact.

And the good news is that it’s never too late to start making changes and investing in your health. Research suggests that making lifestyle changes at age 60 has the potential to increase lifespan by more than eight years.

That said, here are seven diet habits that may boost longevity.

1. Eat fruit and veg

Eat fruit and veg

We all know that eating plenty of fruit and veg is important. But research shows that many of us aren’t putting this into practise, with only 31% of UK adults meeting the five-a-day recommendation.

However, it remains true that eating enough fruit and vegetables is one of the most important things you can do to boost your health and longevity.

One reason for this is that fruit and vegetables are full of essential vitamins and minerals. This includes vitamins A, C, K, and E, as well as potassium, magnesium, and zinc. These vitamins and minerals are essential for healthy body function, and protection against illness and disease.

For example, this study found that eating more fruit and vegetables reduced a person’s risk of death from all causes – including cancer and heart disease.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is also a great way to make sure that you’re getting enough fibre in your diet, which has been linked with greater health and longevity. This study found that people who ate more fibre had a 23% lower risk of dying from any cause, compared with those who ate little or no fibre.

Together, these components mean that upping your fruit and vegetable intake could add years to your life.

If you struggle to eat enough fruit and veg, check out our article; 10 simple ways to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet.

2. Add nuts and seeds to meals

Add nuts and seeds to meals

Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses. Full of vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3, plant protein, and essential minerals like magnesium and potassium, it’s not surprising that they’re linked with longevity.

Their rich nutritional content has been found to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. For example, the omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds, which comes in the form of alpha linoleic acid (ALA), has been shown to boost heart and circulatory health – and longevity.

As a result, several long-term studies across European, American, and Asian populations have highlighted lower death rates in people who consume nuts and seeds regularly.

Other research has looked at metabolic syndrome (a group of health conditions known to increase a person’s risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease). This study, which followed 5,800 men and women with metabolic syndrome for one year, suggested that when they ate more nuts, markers for metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure, waist circumference, weight, and triglyceride levels, all decreased.

Check out these ways to incorporate nuts and seeds to your diet from Only My Health for inspiration. Whether in salads, smoothies, yoghurt, or oats, nuts and seeds make a wonderful addition to many meals.

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3. Eat more legumes

Eat more legumes

Legumes are a family of vegetables that includes beans, peas, and lentils. They’re low-fat, highly-nutritious (a single cup of black beans contains 15g of protein, 15g of fibre, and less than 1g of fat and sugar), and offer a number of health benefits.

As a result, having plenty of legumes in your diet has been found to boost health and reduce the risk of life-threatening health conditions.

This study linked high intake of soybeans with a 15% reduced risk of stomach and other gastrointestinal cancers. Another study found that people who ate more lentils had the lowest rates of diabetes.

Legumes are also a great source of fibre and contain polyphenol. Polyphenol is a powerful antioxidant which, due to its ability to help fight inflammation, obesity, and diabetes, is thought to play a role in healthy ageing.

In line with these benefits, some experts have suggested that eating a cup of beans each day could extend life expectancy by up to four years.

Examples of legumes to consider adding to your diet include: chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, and soybeans. This list of 19 nutritious and flavour-packed legume recipes from Live Eat Learn should offer plenty of inspiration with ideas like black bean tacos and Mediterranean hummus.

4. Consider eating more meat-free meals

Consider eating more meat-free meals

The popularity of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles has grown immensely in recent years, and the health benefits of these diets are well-founded.

For meat-eaters, Meatless Mondays have been a thing for years. And while research suggests this is a step in the right direction, when it comes to longevity, health experts recommend aiming for more than one plant-based meal a week.

Studies have found that compared to meat eaters, vegetarians have a significantly lower overall risk of death. This is largely because plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and are linked with a lower risk of chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.

Interestingly, experts have identified five areas around the world where people live the healthiest, longest lives. Labelled ‘blue zones’, these include Okinawaw in Japan and Ikaria in Greece, and they share a popularity for plant-based diets – with meat being eaten around five times a month in three-to-four ounce portions.

In the food and drink section of our website, you’ll find lots of delicious vegetarian and vegan recipe ideas, which may be helpful if you’d like to start eating more plant-based meals.

5. Choose whole grains

Choose whole grains

Eating whole grains, such as barley, quinoa, rye, as well as brown rice, pasta, and whole grain bread has been linked with better health and longevity.

This is due to their rich nutritional content, which includes high amounts of fibre, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and B vitamins.

This scientific review found that eating three servings of whole grains each day was linked with a 35% reduced risk of dying from heart disease, compared with those who ate less than that amount.

Plus, research has revealed that in Sardinia and Ikaria, two ‘blue zones’, whole grains form a staple part of people’s diets. On average, people in Ikaria live eight years longer than Americans and experience 20% less cancer cases, minimal dementia, and half the rate of heart disease.

The good news is that it’s easy to make simple swaps to eat more whole grains. For example, by swapping from white to whole grain pasta, or choosing wholegrain cereals. For more ideas, check out Heart UK’s guide to eating more whole grains.

6. Drink green tea

Drink some green tea

Green tea is regarded as one of the healthiest drinks around. It’s loaded with antioxidants which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, improve brain function, and support healthy weight loss.

This study looked at 40,530 adults for up to 11 years, and found that those who drank the most green tea (five or more cups per day) were less likely to die during the study period. The risk of death by all causes was reduced by 23% in women, and 12% in men; death from heart disease by 31% in women, and 35% in men; and death from stroke by 42% in women, and 35% in men.

Another study among older adults revealed that those who drank the most green tea were less likely to die over a six-year period.

As well as sipping on green tea, to up your intake you can also use it in smoothies, oatmeal, or to steam rice and vegetables. Matcha is a powdered form of green tea, and can also be used in recipes or added to drinks.

For more information, check out our articles; The health benefits of 9 different types of tea and 10 health benefits of matcha and how to add it to your diet.

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7. Look to the Mediterranean diet for inspiration

Look to the Mediterranean diet for inspiration

Longevity is influenced by our diet as a whole – not just healthy habits that we might practise here and there.

This means that taking a healthy approach to your entire diet is the most effective route. For example, you can’t expect to reap the benefits of adding more nuts and seeds to your diet if you’re eating processed foods the rest of the time!

If you’re looking for guidance on how to combine the tips laid out above, the Mediterranean diet, which remains one of the most championed examples of eating for a longer, healthier life, is a good place to start.

The Mediterranean diet involves eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, pulses, healthy fats, olive oil, herbs, and spices, and can include seafood a few times per week. It allows you to have eggs, dairy, and wine in moderation, but limits meat and sweets.

Olive oil, for example – which is a staple in the Mediterranean diet – is full of health-promoting compounds. This study of over 7,000 people found that each 10g increase in consumption of extra-virgin olive oil per day was linked with a 7% lower risk of early death.

Shorter telomeres are also linked with lower life expectancy and a higher risk of developing chronic health conditions. Telomeres are caps located at the ends of chromosomes to protect DNA. If these become too short, cells may be unable to function correctly.

This study found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is linked with greater longevity through maintaining longer telomere length. It also found that for each one-point increase in the Mediterranean diet score (a measure of adherence to the diet), the risk of death from any cause dropped by 4%.

If you’re interested in the Mediterranean diet, you can find more information in our article; The Mediterranean diet – what is it and what are the benefits?

Final thoughts…

There’s a significant link between diet, health, and longevity – and we all have the potential to make huge differences to our health by making some diet changes.

Whether this means swapping to whole grains, reducing your meat intake, or adding nuts and seeds to your meals, these are all positive steps in the right direction towards enjoying a longer, healthier life.

For more healthy diet tips, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website where you’ll find everything from mood-boosting foods to foods that may reduce the risk of dementia.

What dietary habits do you follow to boost longevity? Have any of the suggestions in this article inspired you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.