At the dawn of the 20th century, life expectancy was essentially half of what it is today. And as many Baby Boomers now approach their sixties in extraordinary health, there's every possibility that many will live well beyond the 70 to 80 'expected' years. What does that say for the rest of us? How long can we expect to live, and does what we eat really make a difference?
A 2011 study found that adults over age 70 whose diet was based on healthier foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and beans, were less likely to die than those individuals who consumed less healthy foods on a regular basis over a ten year period. And in T. Colin Campbell's critically-acclaimed book, The China Study, Campbell and his research team found that throughout China where whole grain rice, fish and vegetables made up the majority of the diets, people were not only generally healthier than those who ate the standard Western diet (partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified ingredients and excessive sodium, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives), but they also tended to live longer, too. A 30-year study published in 2000 found that the Mediterranean Diet was also associated with a higher longevity rate and generally healthier individuals.
What About Caloric Restriction?
Decreasing calories has been suggested as a means to extend life for some time. The Calorie Restriction Society (yes, it exists) suggests that by reducing caloric intake and dropping your weight by 10-25 percent, it could have lasting effects on your lifespan. But research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that "chubby" mice lived longer on a reduced calorie diet than those who were naturally thinner, pointing to variables in how the body processes calories and its effects on longevity.
Is There An Ideal Diet?
While scores of expert opinions exist on the ideal human diet, one factor is typically agreed upon in all recommendations: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. Plant-based foods (including whole grains, legumes, beans and nuts) provide healthy nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, good fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and a plethora of antioxidant compounds that are well known for their ability to slow the signs of aging. Polyphenols and anthocyanins found in plant foods prevent free-radicals from cellular damage that can result from a number of factors both environmental and dietary.
Obesity rates in the U.S. continue to rise, and diet-related illnesses are the number one health problem costing more than $150 billion in health care every year. Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. and is closely linked to diet.
Certainly stepping out in front of a bus can happen to any of us, ending this human journey too soon, but a healthy diet can impart a great number of benefits that can extend your life and make it more enjoyable. It may even make you sharp enough to notice that bus coming straight at you… just in time to avoid it.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger