The Link between Healthy Food and Longevity
‘I am what I eat,’ or so the saying goes. Ignoring the rather foolish literal meaning (you’re obviously not actually a carrot, or a bar of chocolate), the figurative sentiment is applicable. What we eat does largely determine the health and wellbeing of our physical bodies, both in the immediate present and the faraway future. Unfortunately, however, the majority of us continue to think about our daily food intake only in short term measures. It’s unlikely to find someone actually wondering, “which one will help me live longer?”, when contemplating their options for lunch.
While that may sound drastic, it’s an important sentiment to keep in mind. Often we get so caught up in the bustle of our everyday lives, it’s easy to forget that everything we do in the present can, and does, affect our futures. Our daily diets are no exception, as everything we consume has a vital impact on how long, and how well, our bodies function physically.
By carefully reevaluating what you eat now, you could potentially save yourself a lot of time – years, even – in the long run.
Most of us can differentiate ‘good’ foods, such carrots and green beans, from ‘bad’ foods, such as French fries and sugary lollies. If you’re feeling hard pressed to name foods that specifically help to increase longevity, however, it’s your lucky day – we’ve compiled a handy list for you.
Fruits: There’s a reason why an apple a day apparently keeps the doctor away. Berries in particular are packed full of fibre and make for deliciously healthy snacks. Try a handful of raspberries (which contain the anti-cancer compound ellagic acid), strawberries (which provide copious doses of Vitamin C to improve the skin), or blueberries (which help to boost memory and recall over time).
Vegetables: Did you know that tomatoes are actually classified as fruits, not vegetables? Either way, they’re amazingly healthy for you, containing a great deal of fibre, potassium, beta carotene and polyphenols, as well as the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Meanwhile, the humble avocado is chock-full of fats that are monounsaturated and actually healthy – imagine that! Spinach is another vegetable that boasts a veritable trove of nutrients, including iron, lutein, carotenoids and vitamins K, B, C and E.
Fish: These little swimmers, particularly wild salmon, contain a multitude of healthy omega-3 fats and acids such as DHA and EPA, which help to protect against heart failure, depression and age-related dementia.
Nuts and legumes: They may be small, but they sure pack a punch when it comes to providing you with a healthy dose of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Try a handful of Brazil nuts and almonds (both of which help to promote heart health), macadamia nuts (which have been found to lower blood cholesterol) and pine-nuts (which contain healthy nutrients such as zinc, niacin and manganese).
Dark chocolate: Yes, it’s true – chocolate actually can be healthy for you! Chocolate that contains at least 60 per cent cocoa can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lessening the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Healthy diets around the world
Over time, the differences in cultural diets around the world have revealed fascinating results, in terms of the health benefits that come from consuming a steady diet of particular ingredients. Certain countries and areas of the world continue to report a regularly high life expectancy, indicating that unique elements of, and approaches to, their diet may be positively affecting their longevity. So if you haven’t branched out yet into the wide world of international cuisine, there’s no better time to start than now…!
- The Okinawan Diet: The Okinawa people have the highest life expectancy in the world, so naturally there’s been a great deal of worldwide interest in their everyday habits and diets. One important factor in the Okinawan way of life is portion control, wherein they consume much fewer calories than traditional Western diets, by practicing hara hachi bu. Roughly translated, this practice means that people should only eat until they’re 80 per cent full. This method of calorie restriction has been popularly adapted into Western culture through the fairly manageable method of intermittent fasting, wherein followers restrict their calorie intake on certain pre-arranged days. Studies have shown that calorie restriction results in significant health benefits for human beings, and if the Okinawa people are anything to go by, it does looks like one of these benefits includes a longer and healthier life.
- The Mediterranean Diet: In the late twentieth century, the traditional diet of Crete, Greece and southern Italy reported one of the highest adult life expectancies in the world, as well as one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease and certain cancers. Looking at the structure of the Mediterranean food pyramid, it’s not hard to understand why. Each meal is primarily made up of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as fish and poultry, with olive oil used to cook foods (as opposed to unhealthy fats like butter) and herbs and spices used to add flavour (instead of salt). Residents of Greece in particular place an emphasis on the importance of fruit and vegetables, consuming six or more servings that are packed full of nutrients and antioxidants a day.
The Final Word: Eat Well, Live Long
The name says it all when it comes to ‘super’ foods. If you regularly incorporate certain ingredients into your everyday diet, you’ll find the health benefits really pay off, through both short-term and long-term effects. Sure, someone telling you to eat lots of fruits and vegetables might sound like a cliché, but it’s that way for a reason – these are foods that genuinely help your mind and body to function as best and as long as they can. All it takes is a few adjustments to your approach and a few additions to your weekly grocery list, and you’ll find yourself enjoying a much happier (and hopefully longer!) life.
Knowledge is power! Check out Compare the Market’s comprehensive health guides to find out more information about a variety of health related topics.