Can Diet Improve Lifespan?

From keto to paleo, fasting to the raw food diet, many different diets satisfy peoples’ desire to lose weight and improve health. However, which is the best for longevity? Science has an answer.

Key takeaways:
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    Blue Zones diet — (probably) the pre-longevity diet.
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    Mediterranean diet — and age-verified diet that could prolong your lifespan.
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    Fasting — an innovation that might help to improve your lifespan.

Scientific-based longevity diet

Published in Cell, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the research defines the best diet for improving health and lifespan. The researchers reviewed hundreds of papers investigating various aspects of nutrition, including calorie intake, food composition, and fasting in multiple animal and human models. They also reviewed several popular diet types, including keto, vegetarian and vegan, fasting, and the Mediterranean diet. Based on their review, the team identified common dietary denominators and condensed their findings into one comprehensive longevity diet.

The longevity diet is similar to the Mediterranean-style diets of the world’s Blue Zones. The Blue Zone is a region of the world where it is common to see centenarians leading healthy, active lives. The longevity diet is the next stage in the evolution of these Blue-Zone diets, combining them with daily fasting. The longevity diet is not only a weight-loss diet but a lifestyle intended to slow aging.

The optimal longevity diet includes a balance of the following:

A moderate to high intake of unrefined carbohydrates, including vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Low protein intake mostly from plant-based sources.

Enough plant-based fats to provide around 30% of your energy needs.

Additionally, the diet calls for eating all meals within the recommended 12-13 hour window. Interestingly, the study does not investigate the effects of alcohol on longevity, but you could end your day with a congratulatory glass of red wine — Mediterranean style.

An example of daily meals:

Breakfast

Whole grain cereal topped with yogurt, berries, nuts, and grated dark chocolate.

Lunch

Skinny Caesar salad made with green salad leaves, quinoa, tomatoes, avocado, and whole meal croutons, topped with parmesan shavings and drizzled with olive oil.

Dinner

A portion of oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel, accompanied by a cornucopia of vegetables cooked to your liking.

Mediterranean diet — the real key to longevity?

The Mediterranean diet has a direct positive effect on telomere length. The Mediterranean diet managed to preserve a telomere length that corresponded to 4.5 years of aging, comparable to the effects of smoking (4.6 years) and physical activity (4.4 years) on the telomere shortening rate. The Mediterranean diet also stimulates telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

A Norwegian study examined causes of death, the prevalence of 369 diseases and injuries, and 87 risk factors in over 204 countries and territories. They used these factors to create a highly predictive model to calculate a person's lifespan based on their diet. Researchers then used the model to estimate an individual's lifespan when eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and compared that to the lifespan estimate for that same individual when they followed an "optimized diet" mirroring the Mediterranean diet.

Check out the impact they found that eating a Mediterranean diet pattern has on one's longevity:

An increase in life expectancy of 13.0 and 10.7 years in males and females, respectively, when adopted at age 20.

An increase in life expectancy of 11.7 and 10.0 years for men and women, respectively, when adopted at age 40.

An increase in life expectancy of 8.8 and 8.0 years for men and women, respectively, when adopted at age 60.

An increase in life expectancy of 3.4 years for both sexes when adopted at age 80.

But how exactly does following the Mediterranean diet add extra years? Experts agree that it's the collective synergy from all of the components in the diet. Factors include a combination of such things as antioxidants, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. These components work together to improve health and, more importantly, reduce disease risk, which adds years to your life. Regarding omega-3, other studies revealed that it is not omega-3 itself but rather the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that is important, as telomere length increases with a ratio of 1:3.

Fasting works and could extend your lifespan

A study with mice showed that mice who ate one meal per day, and thus, had the longest fasting period, seemed to have a longer lifespan and better outcomes for common age-related liver disease and metabolic disorders. These intriguing results in an animal model show that the interplay of total caloric intake and the length of feeding and fasting periods deserves a closer look. Perhaps this extended daily fasting period enables repair and maintenance mechanisms that would be absent with continuous exposure to food.

Different ways of fasting

Time-restricted fasting

During time-restricted fasting, one eats only during a specific time window. For example, you only eat within 8 hours, e.g., between 12:00–8:00 PM. For the remaining 16 hours, you do not eat anything — you fast. This is called the 16/8 method.

One-day fasting

As the name implies, one-day fasting involves going 24 hours without a meal. For example, some people choose to do this once a week.

Multiple-day fasting

One can also fast for multiple consecutive days. For example, common routines include fasting for two days each week, or three days every month.

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