A quick Google search of the term “longevity” will prompt a whole host of results centered on habits linked to a longer life, longevity as determined by your genetics, and even tools that supposedly function as “life expectancy calculators.” It is clear that as a society, we are infatuated with the idea of longevity – and for good reason! Living a longer, healthier life means enjoying more time with our loved ones, the ability to absorb more information and grow, and the opportunity to achieve our full potential.
But we don’t need a laundry list of funky tips and tricks to achieve longevity. The ability to throw our hats into the ring with some of the longest living people on the planet can be accomplished with support from certain eating habits as well as some of the foods that we consume every single day. While there is no single factor in our lives that can prevent sickness, there are some science-based ways in which you can enhance your longevity through food.
Prebiotic- and Probiotic-Rich Foods
As I explain in my book Eat to Beat Disease, one secret to longevity is consuming healthy bacteria. As early as 1907, Ilya Metchnikoff, a prominent Russian zoologist, began wondering whether all bacteria were bad. During the cholera epidemic of 1892 in France, he mixed various bacteria in a petri dish and discovered that while some encouraged the growth of cholera, others hindered it.
Metchnikoff began considering whether consuming some of the good bacteria could have beneficial effects on the human body. Around the same time, he realized that the oldest villagers were drinking fermented yogurt containing the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which led him to further question whether beneficial bacteria could lead to longevity.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and Metchnikoff’s hypotheses have been supported by countless scientists across the globe. There are now more than one thousand known species of gut bacteria and microbiome diversity has been determined as an important hallmark of health. The more numerous and diverse bacteria we have thriving in the ecosystem of our gut microbiome, the healthier we become.
Prebiotic foods can improve bacterial function by fueling the bacteria in our intestines while probiotic foods contain live microbial organisms. Prebiotic foods are typically made up of dietary fiber. Some of my favorite probiotic-rich foods include fermented variations such as sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, and kefir.
The variety of foods we eat also has a beneficial impact on longevity. You could say that diet diversity is a prerequisite for longevity. It’s the mix of foods that enter your body over the years that tips the scale in your favor against disease.
In Eat to Beat Disease, I outline a 5 x 5 x 5 framework that is meant to encourage diverse eating habits. It works well because it is personalized to your food preferences and adaptable to changing circumstances. Essentially, you choose 5 different foods from the 5 defense systems that I detail in the book: angiogenesis (growing new blood vessels), cell regeneration, the microbiome, DNA protection, and immunity. The key is to activate all 5 health defense systems every day, which encourages diverse eating.
Caloric Restriction & Fasting
Beyond the types of foods that we consume, another way in which food is connected to longevity is by the amount in which we consume it. It is now a well-known fact in the science community that reducing the intake of calories by 20-40 percent can increase longevity and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Some people hear caloric restriction and immediately think of starvation or a fad diet. But that is not the case. Caloric restriction is a condition that has been experienced throughout human evolution and our metabolism has learned to function extraordinarily well under these conditions. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have determined that restricting calories activates stem cells in the intestines, which regenerate cells in the gut.
Fasting, or the complete restriction of food for a period of time, has shown similar impressive benefits. In fact, fasting has been shown to stimulate brain regeneration in mice. More research is needed in this area of study, but the data is promising.
Check out Dr. Li’s book, Eat to Beat Disease, for more details on how the 5 health defense systems can further impact longevity.