How to eat for a longer, healthier life
You train to live better, to stay strong and mobile as you get older, to keep doing the things you love. It’s time to start thinking about what you eat in the same way.
Because food plays a big role in determining your health and how you will age. So if you want to know what to eat to minimize the risk of disease, to improve your quality of life and whether diets for longevity are real, let’s chat.
I’ll take you through the nutrients you need, the stuff you may want to avoid, and I’ll throw in a few of my favorite recipes to get you started.
Before we dive into your diet for longevity, here are a few key takeaways:
Get plenty of plants, fiber, omega-3s and protein onto your plate. And don’t forget to hydrate!
Be mindful of saturated fats, added sugars and your alcohol intake.
Yes, certain nutrients can decrease your risk of disease, but there is no single magical superfood.
Social traditions around eating are just as important as what you eat for your well-being.
It’s not just what you eat, but the enjoyment you get from food that matters.
Nutrition for longevity: what foods should you put first?
Here’s what you should be putting on your plate for a long and healthy life. No hype, nothing ‘super’, just science-backed advice!
Plants: My motto is not only to prioritize plants on your plate, but to mix it up with as much variety as you can. And when I say plants, I’m including all your fruit and veg, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.
Plants provide fiber and polyphenols (antioxidants), along with essential vitamins and minerals. And when you consume a variety of plant foods, that’s really good for your gut microbiome.
My recommendation is to aim to get at least one fruit or veg on your plate with each meal. Some of my personal favorites are:
- Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli – they’re rich in antioxidants and several essential vitamins
- Berries like blueberries and raspberries – they provide antioxidants and a good amount of fiber.
- Avocados – whether you slice or smash, they’re rich in fiber, vitamin E and heart-healthy fats.
Fiber: We all grow up knowing ‘fiber keeps you regular’ – it’s key to a healthy digestive system. But did you know that your digestive tract is also tied to the health of your immune system?
Consuming a high-fiber diet with a variety of plant foods has been shown to be beneficial for our gut microbiome, which in turn reduces the risk of chronic disease.
Fiber will also help you with weight management, blood sugar stability and has been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, including colon cancer.
The Banana & Walnut Green Smoothie is packed with fruit, veg and seeds for a plant-powered boost.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish is a great way to get your omega-3s, but if you're not a fan of seafood or don’t eat it regularly, consider adding plant sources of omega-3s into your diet – like chia, flax and hemp seeds.
Protein: I’ve spoken before about how important protein is to reduce the loss of lean muscle as we age. But the amino acids that make up protein are also essential for bone health and immune health – and your protein needs will increase as you age. Along with protein, stay on top of your vitamin D, calcium and magnesium intake to support bone health, as well.
Hydration: Don’t forget to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water every day. Proper hydration is key for maintaining healthy blood volume, blood pressure, and aiding in the body’s natural detoxification process and proper digestion.
What foods should I avoid to age well?
When it comes to foods that you should avoid, it’s important to remember not to over-obsess about it. Healthy eating comes down to what you eat the majority of the time, not one or two snacks or meals.
So, without obsessing, be mindful of the amounts of saturated fats and added sugars you’re consuming regularly. This may involve reading the nutritional information on the food you buy a little more closely, or eating home-cooked meals more often than you hit the drive-thru.
Minimizing your alcohol intake is also important. Alcohol impacts your gut health, muscle protein synthesis, sleep and can lead to unplanned (or excess) food consumption – all of which can impact quality of life as you age.
One study showed that while modest alcohol intake did not impact longevity, drinking beyond a modest amount (anything more than 2 drinks, 3 times a week) led to a 7-10 year drop in life expectancy in men.
Could you swap your evening tipple for a mocktail like our Blueberry Lemon Spritzer?
Are there really longevity superfoods?
We know that certain nutrients – such as omega-3s, polyphenols and fiber – are associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease. We also know that trans fats, processed meats and alcohol can increase this risk.
But we can’t single out one specific food as being the superfood for longevity – nor should we try to.
As a dietitian, I’ve had plenty of clients come to me with a study they saw claiming this or that food is the secret to living to 100. These nutrition studies should be approached with caution because they’re often observational, meaning they have many limitations and no method for producing solid ‘Cause = Effect’ evidence.
Of course, data from these studies can be helpful to make correlations and observe relationships, but it can’t make a claim around one specific food being the key to living longer.
What about the social side of eating?
There’s one very important aspect of eating for healthy aging that I don’t see mentioned enough: the social aspect.
Food is so much more than just calories and macros. It’s something we share with other people – on holidays, on special events and birthdays, to simply catch up with friends and family.
We know how much of an impact social interaction and relationships have on our mental health, and food is no different. I believe that these traditions centered around food can and should be a part of your healthy lifestyle, even if the foods you eat on these occasions aren’t necessarily the ‘healthiest’ options.
5 recipes for strong and healthy aging
Okay, we’ve talked nutrition, now let’s put it into action – and get that good stuff into your diet.
Remember, no one food or single recipe can guarantee longevity, but these great options will get you on the right track.
2. Gut Health Berry Smoothie
Start your day with a smoothie loaded with prebiotics, thanks to the fiber-rich flaxseed and berries, along with probiotics from yogurt. It also contains leafy greens and over 30 grams of protein.
3. Tempeh Bolognese
Tempeh is one of my favorite plant-based protein sources. Crumbled up and paired with mushrooms, it makes the perfect hearty spaghetti sauce – rich in both fiber and protein.
4. Shredded Salsa Chicken Burrito Bowls
Fiber, protein and plenty of color from veggies make these bowls a powerhouse lunch option. Plus, it’s a great recipe for meal prepping, which in my experience can definitely reduce stress!
5. Recovery Almond & Banana Bites
As we age, strength training and protein intake becomes even more important because our bodies aren’t as efficient as muscle protein synthesis. So after your next strength training session, try these post-workout recovery bites, a delicious way to keep your body’s process of muscle building and repair ticking along.
Sports dietitian Angie Asche will power your plate with no-nonsense food advice. Founder of Eleat Sports Nutrition, Angie works with MLB, NFL and NHL athletes to get the best from their bodies. With a Masters of Science in Nutrition & Physical Performance, and as a certified exercise physiologist and personal trainer, she’s got the expertise you need to achieve your goals.
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