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Which Foods Help You Live Longer? Scientists Say They Know

Foods to live longer

For the first time, scientists say they have identified food components that can help you live longer; in fact, these substances can reduce the risk of dying in older adults by 30 percent. So which foods should you be eating?

How to eat to live longer

The food components that can help extend life are called polyphenols, and they are found in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, tea, cereals, nuts, legumes, and coffee. This study by an international team of scientists is the first time researchers have identified a high polyphenol intake with reduced mortality.

Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidant in the human diet. More than 8,000 polyphenic compounds have been identified thus far.

The study that brought this critical information to light was conducted over a 12-year period and involved 807 adults aged 65 and older. While many nutrition studies ask the participants to complete diet diaries, in this study the researchers evaluated the impact of dietary polyphenols using a measurement known as the total urinary polyphenol concentration.

Use of this measurement tool is much more accurate than asking individuals to recall dietary habits. Professor Cristina Andres Lacueva, the study’s coordinator and head of the Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics Research Group, explained that this approach “makes a more reliable and accurate evaluation of the association between food intake and mortality or disease risk.”

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How much polyphenols do you need?
The researchers found that those who consumed more than 650 mg per day of polyphenols had a 30 percent reduced risk of mortality compared with those who consumed less than 500 mg per day. So if you want to increase your intake of polyphenols, what should you do?

The simplest thing to do is to eat a wide range of foods in the aforementioned categories. That is, lots of fruits and vegetables in particular, as they are generally excellent sources of polyphenols.

More specifically, be sure to include as many of these foods as possible on a regular basis: apples, blueberries, broccoli, celery, citrus, hazelnuts, kale, leeks, olives and olive oil, onions, parsley, pecans, red grapes, and tea. Red wine, cocoa powder, beer, and dark chocolate are excellent sources of polyphenols, but for obvious reasons you should consume these in moderation only.

How you prepare these foods also has an impact on their polyphenol content. Raw is best, but when that is not possible or feasible, steaming retains much of the nutrient content. Since most herbs and spices are great sources of polyphenols as well, jazz up your food with these healthful flavorings.

To get the most from grains and legumes, choose those that are as minimally processed as possible. Fruits and vegetables should not be peeled when possible but washed thoroughly. Organic choices are preferred. For help finding the polyphenol content of hundreds of foods, see the Phenol-Explorer.

This current study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, represents the first time scientists have associated a high intake of polyphenols with a significant reduction in mortality among older adults. The ability to live a longer, healthier life is within reach of anyone who takes the time to choose foods rich in polyphenols.

Massimo D’Archivio, C. Polyphenols, dietary sources and bioavailability. Annali Dell’ Instituto Superiore di Sanita 2007; 43(4): 348-61
Zamora-Ros R et al. High concentrations of a urinary biomarkers of polyphenols intake are associated with decreased mortality in older adults. Journal of Nutrition 2013; 143(9): 1445

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