Seven eating habits for longevity

Is your diet adding years to your life or putting you at risk of chronic disease? 

Over the last five years, we've seen typical weight-loss diets trending down while interest in longevity has trended upwards. Our new intent seems much less short-sighted than before. In 2019, more people googled 'lose weight in a week' than 'lose weight for good', and now the reverse is true.

Are we now tired of fad diets that promise (and fail) to deliver? We look at the link between longevity and diet and how you can shift your perspective on health and food.

How can diet increase disease risk?

Eating a diet that's high in saturated fat can lead to carrying excess weight and high cholesterol. These risk factors impact your metabolic health and increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome affects around one in four adults in the UK. 

Metabolic syndrome increases your risk of: 

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke

Can my diet help me live longer?

Yes - what you eat can directly impact your health and disease risk. For instance, people living in Blue Zones (areas with large populations of centenarians) generally eat mostly plant-based diets. They consume little to no ultra-processed foods and red meats.

Which diet is best for longevity

It isn't only what you eat that's important. How and when you eat may be just as crucial. 

Eating too close to bedtime (when melatonin rises) is associated with: 

  • Increased body fat and obesity
  • Increasing blood sugar levels the next day after meals
  • Greater risk of poor cardiometabolic health [1] 

Seven eating habits for longevity

1. Focus on nourishing your body for your future

You might interpret diet to mean restriction. But your diet shouldn't be a sorry affair. Eating delicious, nourishing food fuels your body's needs and activity levels and can help you live longer in better health.

The first step to starting a diet to support longevity is to visualise how you want to live in old age. Honestly, what would you like to be able to do in your 80s, 90s, and at 100+?

These goals could link to health, fitness, family, community, independence, fun, or creativity. You might aim to visit your favourite gallery, meet grandchildren (or great-grandchildren), or to be able to make yourself a cup of tea. And you're more likely to get there if you stay in good health for longer. 

Instead of crash dieting to lose weight for a short-term goal, shift your perspective. You're now nourishing your body to increase your chance of being active and enjoying life well into your 90s.

2. Use food as preventative medicine

The prevalence of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cognitive decline increases with age. Some eating patterns, including the Mediterranean diet, can lower the risk of these and other chronic conditions. 

Your risk of these diseases will depend on a mix of environmental, lifestyle factors and genetic factors. Some studies say lifestyle influences as much as 75% of your longevity.

You can get a reasonable indication of your risk with some online calculators. If they suggest that you're at a medium or high risk of disease, then you may want to investigate further.

A blood test gives you a current picture of your overall health and insights into your future wellness. HbA1C looks at your average blood glucose levels over the last three months to see whether you are (or at risk of becoming) diabetic. Cholesterol and heart health markers assess your blood fat levels, which impact your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Once you have this data, you can use your diet to address your risk of these diseases to improve your long-term health


3. Avoid ultra-processed foods advertised as low-fat 

We’re well aware that a diet of ultra-processed foods isn’t good for our long-term health, but ultra-processed foods can be disguised as healthy, usually with a low-fat or high-protein label. 

Foods labelled as low-fat almost certainly go through a process to remove fat from them. Sugars, flavourings, whey proteins, and pectin usually replace this natural fat content. The removed fat is also rich in micronutrients and probiotic bacteria, which have positive effects on overall health. 

In the 80s, we believed that low fat equalled healthy. We now know we need to focus on the right kinds of fats and the total makeup of nutrients [2]. Absorbing nutrients is a complex process, but marketing tactics can cause more confusion.

4. Eat like a Mediterranean

For longevity, the Mediterranean diet remains one of the gold standards [3]. This is more of a way of eating, rather than a strict diet. The Mediterranean diet includes a large quantity of olive oil, vegetables, and nuts, and avoids processed meats. 

A Mediterranean diet is a high intake of:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Pulses
  • Healthy fats - nuts, olive oil, avocado
  • Herbs and spices

A moderate intake of:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Seafoods (a few times a week)

Limited intake of:

  • Meats (more white meat than red meat)
  • Sweets

Which diet is best for longevity

5. Cut out sugar-sweetened drinks

Drinks are an important component of your diet. Sugar-sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death [4]. 

Coffee, tea, and plain water are healthier options (though you should watch your caffeine intake) [5]. Green tea in particular has the most health benefits.

Green tea is linked to a lower risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer's
  • Obesity

As well as drinking your green tea, you can add it to smoothies, oatmeal, or overnight oats if you prefer. The powdered form of green tea is matcha. If you have a more savoury palate, try adding matcha powder to soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. 

6. Slow down your eating and eat until you are 80% full

Eat until you're satisfied and not hungry, but don't eat to the point that you're full or stuffed. Japan has one of the lowest rates of illness from heart disease, cancer, and stroke. One of their mottos is hara hachi bu, meaning to eat until you're 80% full. 

One way to avoid overeating is to look at your eating pattern. Intermittent fasting is a popular way to restrict the time that you're eating. This is thought to allow your body more time to digest your food and not overconsume. 

More evidence is also emerging on how eating pace affects satiation. The study of obesity showed that overweight men and women took in fewer calories when they slowed their normal eating pace [6]. 

7. Make mealtimes sociable

Now you understand your health risks, you're focusing on eating plenty of fresh and whole foods, and are wise to marketing traps. Turn your focus towards where and when you eat. Are meals enjoyable? 

Many Mediterranean countries and people living in Blue Zones make meals a social occasion. They bring friends and family together. Meals are an enjoyable experience - from chatting over making bread to sharing food around the table.

Now, imagine where you eat your meals and snacks. Does it evoke the same feelings? Where and when you eat is arguably as important as what you eat. 

Which diet is best for longevity

Is there one diet for longevity? 

Health and longevity aren't something we can achieve with one magic ingredient. Living a longer life involves looking at each part of your wellbeing, from your nutrition to how you move and your social connections. 

Short-term thinking is out. Focus on nourishing your body to reduce your risk of long-term disease. This long-term thinking can help to increase your chance of extending your life expectancy and living longer in good health.



  1. Louie, J. C. Y., & Rangan, A. M. (2019). Effects of full-fat and fermented dairy products on cardiometabolic disease: Food is more than the sum of its parts. Advances in Nutrition.
  2. Di Daniele, N., Noce, A., Vidiri, M. F., Moriconi, E., Marrone, G., Annicchiarico-Petruzzelli, M., D'Urso, G., Tesauro, M., Rovella, V., & De Lorenzo, A. (2017). Impact of Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome, cancer and longevity. Oncotarget, 8(5), 8947-8979. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.13553
  3. Srour, B., Fezeu, L. K., Kesse-Guyot, E., Allès, B., Méjean, C., Andrianasolo, R. M., Chazelas, E., Deschasaux, M., Hercberg, S., Galan, P., Monteiro, C. A., & Julia, C. (2019). Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé). The BMJ, 365, l1451.
  4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019, September 3). Sugar-sweetened beverages linked with increased risk of premature death for people with type 2 diabetes. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.,%25%20higher%20all%2Dcause%20mortality.
  5. WebMD. (n.d.). Eating Too Fast: The Risks and How to Slow Down. WebMD.

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