Why nutrition is crucial for longevity

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- Updated by Jody Mullis MS, RD, Nutritionist

Key Takeaways

  • There is a critical difference between a lifespan and a health span - life span is how many years a person lives, and health span is how high the quality of life of those years is.
  • Nutrition is key to increasing a person’s health span; a poor diet is the top 3rd cause of death.
  • Lacking essential nutrients, such as Vitamin D or zinc, can cause chronic diseases, and research shows that over 30% of adults have a zinc deficiency.
  • One of the critical strategies for a healthy lifespan is decreasing sugar intake, reducing the potential of developing diabetes.
  • The essential foods to include in your diet are whale plant-based foods, whole grains, fewer calories, less protein, healthy fats, and spermidine.

Why nutrition is crucial for longevity

Life expectancy may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean everyone who lives into old age is healthy. If you want to live a healthy long life, you need to get the right nutrition for longevity.

Read on to find out the best nutrition for a long life, and why it matters.

What is nutrition for longevity?

What you eat affects how well you age.

Unhealthy foods can trigger blood sugar highs and lows, weight gain, and inflammation. This isn’t a problem short-term. But when we eat these foods all the time, it can damage our bodies.

This increases your risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. We call these “lifestyle diseases”, and they’re linked to reduced longevity.(1)

Lifestyle diseases are the top causes of death

Unhealthy diets contribute to the top 3 causes of death worldwide.(2) They are:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

In fact, lifestyle diseases cause almost half of all deaths. We’re at higher risk of lifestyle diseases when we live an unhealthy lifestyle:

  • Unhealthy food
  • Not enough exercise
  • Living or working in a high-stress environment

One of the main culprits is ultra-processed food (UPF). UPFs increase your risk of insulin resistance, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes. Processed foods also have no minerals, vitamins or fibre - crucial for a long, healthy life.(3)

Nutrient deficiencies linked to shorter life

Nutritional deficiencies impact your immune system. Being deficient in certain nutrients increases your risk of diseases such as pneumonia.(4)

Unfortunately, the typical Western diet is low in several very important nutrients.

For example, Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Low levels can lead to frailty, fractures, and an increased risk of illnesses and cancer.

On the flip side, scientists found supplementing vitamin D can make you 2.6 years younger.(5)

Another common deficiency is zinc. 30% of adults are zinc deficient. Zinc deficiency can increase your risk of many chronic diseases seen in the elderly such as:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Why? Zinc is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient important for your immune system. So not getting enough increases your risk of inflammation, oxidative stress, and infections.(6)

Zinc also helps balance blood sugar and prevents insulin resistance - signs of ageing.

Insulin resistance promotes the ageing process

Reducing your sugar intake is a must for a long life.

Too much sugar (or refined carbohydrates) triggers high insulin levels. Insulin moves the sugar from your blood into your cells. But over time, your body becomes insensitive to all the insulin floating around. It stops doing its job. We call this insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is one of the main factors in ageing.

Insulin and IGF-1

High insulin increases IGF-1 - ‘insulin-like growth factor-1’. Scientists discovered IGF-1 plays a major role in regulating longevity. Less IGF-1 promotes a longer lifespan, whereas high levels speed up the ageing process.(7)

So it’s not surprising that consuming sodas and drinks with added sugar can take up to 6 years off your life. Most of us get most of our sugar from drinks, so cutting these out is the first step.

If you don’t fix your blood sugar, you could end up with one of the chronic inflammatory diseases: type 2 diabetes.

Chronic inflammation - otherwise known as “inflamm-ageing”

Remember heart disease and stroke being the top killers in the world? The highest risk factor is chronic inflammation.

So if you don't want to die from a stroke, you must avoid chronic inflammatory diseases:(8)

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension

Telomere damage

Inflammation damages your telomeres - the DNA at the ends of your chromosomes. Their job is to protect your genes.(9) But the damage makes your telomeres shorter, so your genes have less protection. The shorter your telomeres, the lower your life expectancy.

But it’s not as easy as cutting out “bad” foods. Scientists are now realising how important gut bacteria are for life expectancy. And your gut bacteria need specific “good” foods.

Your gut bacteria might determine your age

An imbalance of the gut microbiome - “dysbiosis” - may increase your risk of one of the top killers: stroke.(8)

In fact, dysbiosis can increase your risk of 40 old-age diseases.(10)

Can dysbiosis cause disease?

Dysbiosis can mean either:

  • Too many bad bacteria
  • Or not enough good bacteria

Sometimes, unwanted pathogenic microbes could be causing the disease. Other times, it's not having enough good bacteria that's the problem.(11)

For example, people with high blood pressure tend to have higher numbers of bad gut bacteria. The more bad bacteria, the higher the blood pressure.(12)

Remember nutrient deficiencies speed up ageing? People with healthy gut bacteria have higher levels of nutrients and vitamins. Good bacteria literally make vitamins that our body can use.

What foods increase longevity? Our top 5 nutrition tips for longevity

Now you're likely wondering what you can do to improve your longevity.

Scientists found people with lower inflammation and longer telomeres eat certain foods.(13) So here are our top nutrition tips for a longer life, according to science.

1. Whole plant-based foods

People who live longer tend to eat more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and coffee.(14)

But eating processed meat increases your risk of diseases such as colorectal cancer.(13,15)

Whole grains are important

Eating whole grains every day increases healthy life expectancy.(16)

The Mediterranean diet - rich in whole grains - is a great example. Those following the Mediterranean diet age more slowly. Scientists think it's due to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients in plants called polyphenols.(17)

Flavonoids are a polyphenol in fruits, vegetables, and coffee. It's linked to better insulin sensitivity and can prevent (even reverse) diabetes.(18)

[Note: Although it’s not linked to living longer, it's OK to eat organic white meat on the odd occasion. But avoid frying or grilling meat at higher temperatures. The resulting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are linked to faster ageing.](19)

2. Caloric restriction

You’ve heard of the 5:2 diet, intermittent fasting, and time-restricted eating. These are all ways to eat fewer calories during the day. People usually do this for weight loss, but it can also have life-prolonging effects.

Glucose balancing

Calorie restriction boosts gluconeogenesis. This is the process of making energy from protein and fats instead of carbohydrates.

Being in a state of gluconeogenesis reduces your glucose, insulin and IGF-1 levels.(20) Scientists think this is why calorie restriction is good for longevity.(21)

This explains why Metformin - the most popular anti-diabetic drug in the world - may also delay ageing. Metformin also balances blood sugar, and reduces insulin and IGF-1 levels.(22)

Sleep regulation

The benefits of calorie restriction even extend to sleep and gut health. Eating at certain times can regulate circadian rhythm and balance the gut microbiome. All this lowers markers of inflammatory and oxidative stress.(23)

It’s not only restricting calories which has a positive impact on longevity. Restricting certain macronutrients also has an impact.

3. Less protein

Too much protein could lead to a shorter life span.(24)

Eating lots of protein increases the “acid load” of your diet. The higher your diet acid load, the greater your risk of insulin resistance.(25) There's also a link between eating less protein, blood sugar balance and lower IGF-1 levels.(13)

But there’s one amino acid in particular which seems to be problematic.

Methionine restriction

It’s called methionine - and the main source is meat.

Animal studies suggest eating a low-methionine diet can increase lifespan. The lifespan of rats was 40% longer on a low-methionine diet.(26)

Limiting methionine might also:

  • aid weight loss
  • increase insulin sensitivity
  • decrease inflammation and oxidative stress
  • slow cancer cell growth(27)

All this research gave birth to a new longevity diet called “Methionine Restriction”.(28)

So, try to get most of your protein from beans, lentils and whole grains instead of meat and dairy. Replace some of the protein you used to eat with healthy fats instead (more on that next).

4. Healthy fats

Processed and saturated fats are linked to heart disease.

But not all fats are bad. Your body needs some healthy fats to function.

Anti-inflammatory fats

Omega-3s are particularly important. They combat the main risk factors of ageing - inflammation and insulin resistance.(29)

Monounsaturated fats are also linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Foods high in healthy fats to include in your diet are:

  • oily fish
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • avocados

Inflammatory fats

You want to aim for more anti-inflammatory omega-3 than pro-inflammatory omega-6.(30) So try to avoid refined vegetable oils high in omega-6, such as soybean oil, rapeseed oil, and sunflower oil.

5. Spermidine

Spermidine is a naturally-occurring compound associated with longevity. It protects the heart and brain, and even has anticancer properties.(31)

You can get spermidine from your diet. But supplementing at high doses could have even greater life-prolonging effects.

Spermidine and cell renewal

One study found spermidine supplements even improved brain function in people with dementia.(32)

Spermidine works by increasing autophagy, which means cell death. Sounds like a bad thing, right? But the more old cells die, the more new, healthy cells can grow.

It’s this ability of spermidine to encourage cell death which might improve dementia. Old malfunctioning brain cells die, and new healthy brain cells take their place.

There’s lots of natural spermidine in the Mediterranean diet. The best sources of spermidine are:(33)

  • Aged cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Soy foods
  • Beans
  • Green peas
  • Whole grains


You can’t avoid getting older, but you can choose how well you age. You may even be able to choose how long you live.

By making better food choices, you can stay active and live the rest of your life to the fullest. Balancing your blood sugar and reducing inflammation are paramount to a long life. Eating more plant-based foods, more healthy fats, and less calories can all help.

But it’s not always easy to get all the right nutrition from your diet. Longevity Box’s supplements provide all the nutrients you need without the stress of eating right every day.

Find out more about our supplement range here.


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