Do you want to live to be 110? You might be surprised by how many people are reluctant to answer that question with enthusiasm. Many fear their final decade will be full of pain. So a better angle would be to focus on one’s health span rather than life span. What if you could live to be 110 with vitality, purpose, and happiness? Why do some people thrive well past 100 years of age with mobility, mental clarity, and energy, while others have their light snuffed out too soon?
A supercentenarian is someone who has lived to their 110th birthday or beyond (Jeanne Calment of France still holds the record as having the longest confirmed human lifespan, of 122 years, 164 days). Remarkably, nearly all people who live this long are free of major age-related diseases like dementia, Type 2 diabetes, or autoimmune disease. When they finally pass away, they often go peacefully, during a nap for example. Is it luck? Genes? Or do they have habits that we can adopt that could lead us to this kind of graceful aging? As a holistic nutritionist and anti-inflammatory expert, I have spent my life seeking answers to this question, and the answer is a resounding yes.
Lifestyles of the Longest-Lived People
Contrary to gene theory, it is our lifestyle choices that make the greatest impact on longevity. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer and author of “The Blue Zones,” has reported on distinct lifestyle practices that many people living over 100 with vitality have in common. The longest-living people reside in the following regions: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Before looking at their diet, let’s review a few of the lifestyle habits that are common among the longest living on earth:
Authentic Movement: All long-lived people get lots of exercise from physical work in gardens, farms, and around the house. Dog walking, bike riding, and gardening also contribute to the longevity “healthstyle.”
Purpose: Instead of retirement, many centenarians embrace jobs that they love, including managing community gardens or taking care of grandchildren.
Love: A cornerstone of longevity is expressing gratitude and sharing love with one’s tribe. The reduction of stress dramatically reduces inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory Food: Menus of the long-lived are packed with anti-aging nutrients that have the power to enhance and extend life. A focus on plants, fiber, and omega-3 is key, and every menu has flavorful fats that make meals taste great!
Foods for Centenarians
Let’s take a tour around the world to learn some of the powerful foods that are eaten in longevity zones.
Coconut: This fruit has different parts and uses: The liquid water portion contains high levels of B vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and vitamin C; the dried kernel (copra) is mainly fat and used for oil extraction. The fatty-acid profile of coconut makes it one of today’s most popular superfoods. Coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs are absorbed and used quickly by the body as a source of energy, or are converted to ketone bodies beneficial for brain health. Coconuts and coconut oil also contain flavonoids and other polyphenols that act as antioxidants, protecting against free radicals, oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and cancer.
Cocoa: Not only is cocoa delightful to eat, but contains approximately 380 bioactive compounds such as polyphenols (catechins) and methylxanthines. In fact, cocoa has a higher level of phenols than green tea and red wine, making it a powerful antioxidant. Studies show that regular consumption of cocoa rich in polyphenols is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. The high polyphenol profile increases HDL, decreases LDL, and improves blood sugar and blood pressure.
Dandelion Greens: These rank high in overall nutritional value amongst leafy greens and are loaded with antioxidants such as polyphenols, plus vitamins A and C. Their antioxidant potential is of significance for longevity because it decreases oxidative stress (which underlies the disease process) and slows down the aging of cells. Dandelion greens are also wonderful for protecting the liver and supporting its role as the body’s main detoxification organ, clearing toxins that can both age us and increase our risk of diseases.
Fennel: In Indian and Greek mythology, fennel symbolizes longevity and immortality. Part of the parsley family, fennel is used both as a vegetable and a spice. It is well known as a natural remedy for digestive disorders and also acts as an anti-inflammatory food, reducing the risk of disease and increasing antioxidant activity in the body. It also affects cholesterol levels by increasing good cholesterol (HDL) and inhibiting the oxidation of bad cholesterol (LDL). Between that and its high potassium content, fennel can support the cardiovascular system.
Sardines: They may be small in size and environmental footprint, but sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients such as vitamin D, selenium, and vitamin B12. The health benefits of omega-3s come from their anti-inflammatory action, which helps to prevent medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids can keep LDL cholesterol in check, while increasing HDL cholesterol levels and nourishing the cardiovascular system.
Seaweed: This multicellular marine algae contains many bioactive compounds and polysaccharides that are not found in any terrestrial plant. Studies comparing Japanese to Western diets have linked the consumption of seaweed to a decrease in chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Many seaweed species contain healthy fatty acids like long-chain omega-3s and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are protective for the cardiovascular system. As well, seaweeds have anti-cancer properties as shown by studies linking seaweed to reduced cancer risk, especially breast cancer in premenopausal women via estrogen metabolism.
Ginger: Rich in phytonutrients, ginger is frequently used as a spice and condiment to add flavor to food. But flavor and aroma is not the only reason to use ginger; its medicinal properties help to decrease inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Regular consumption of this herb can also decrease the risk of various cancers such as colorectal, ovarian, liver, skin, breast, and prostate. Gingerols, shogaols, and paradols are this plant’s main constituents that work to promote health and alleviate many ailments, even slowing the aging process in cells.
Garlic: This is a truly wonderful herb with strong healing powers. It can kill microbes (bacteria, fungus, viruses), lower blood pressure and cholesterol, thin the blood to prevent blood clots, and even prevent cancer. What makes it so powerful is its high content of sulfur compounds, which are responsible for its flavor, odor, and medicinal benefits. Another important component is allicin, which is what makes garlic such a terrific natural antibiotic that can kill or inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms including salmonella, E. coli, Staph aureus, and H. pylori, to name a few.
Olives: Olives and olive oil are staples in the diets of those who populate the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. These people tend to have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and enjoy increased longevity and life expectancy. Olives are high in oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid) and phenols, which are both beneficial for normalizing cholesterol levels.
Olive oil contains more squalene (a plant-based fat) than other seasoning oils. This compound has chemoprotective attributes that help cancer patients weather the damaging effects of chemotherapy. It is also linked to lower incidence of cancers. Olive oil’s components are anti-inflammatory and play a role in decreasing the inflammation involved in bone resorption in postmenopausal women, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Avocados: Avocados deliver significant vitamin K, E, potassium, and magnesium. Avocados are also high in B vitamins, choline, phytosterols, and healthy fats that support a wide range of health benefits. Eating avocados every day can help keep cholesterol levels and body weight healthy. Avocados contain vitamin C and E, as well as xanthophylls (a class of carotenoids), which all act as antioxidants to protect against DNA damage. Not only are avocados great at supporting longevity internally, but when applied topically, they also inhibit the aging of the skin, due to highly bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which protect against UV damage.
Spirulina: This microalgae is rich in carotenoids and antioxidant compounds. Spirulina has been reported to decrease oxidative stress and reduce cholesterol levels. The exact compound in spirulina responsible for lowering cholesterol levels is still unknown but is suspected to be phycocyanin, a protein. Phycocyanin is also important for cancer prevention, along with beta-carotenoids, which can potentially help protect against cancer due to their antioxidant action and immune modulation characteristics. Spirulina is low in calories but high in nutrients, iodine, folate, and magnesium.
Nutritionist and TV personality Julie Daniluk is the award-winning and bestselling author of three books, including “Meals That Heal Inflammation” and “Hot Detox.” Her fourth book, “Becoming Sugar-Free,” will be released in September 2021 by Penguin/Random House. Julie is in her 11th season as the nutrition expert for “The Marilyn Denis Show.” For more information see JulieDaniluk.com, Facebook & Instagram @juliedaniluk.