Life Extension Magazine®

Woman snacking on sliced mushroom that is a part of an 'optimal diet'

Optimal Diet = 8 More Years

A new model predicts that people who switch to an “optimal diet” at age 60 live an additional 8 years. Learn how to incorporate more longevity-enhancing foods into your diet.

By William Faloon.

William Faloon

Healthy eating patterns have long been associated with increased human life expectancy.

A higher degree of adherence with the Mediterranean diet is associated with a 10%-42% lower risk of death, according to several studies.1-7

An observational study showed that an Omega-3 Index blood test score over 6.8% is correlated with a 34% lower overall mortality risk compared to people with Omega-3 Index scores under 4.2%.8

A separate study found that higher Omega-3 Index scores are associated with 4.7 years of increased life expectancy.9

Based on accumulating data about the effect of diet on human longevity, researchers developed a model to estimate life expectancy of people who followed an "optimal diet."

This model predicts that women who switch to an "optimal diet" at age 60 live an additional 8 years, whereas men garner an additional 8.8 years.10

The estimate was based on switching from a typical Western diet to mostly plant-based foods and fish, with lower consumption of red meat, processed meat, and sugary drinks.

These projected increases in life expectancy further corroborate the benefits of switching to healthier dietary patterns.

This editorial discusses these remarkable findings,10 and how to incorporate more longevity-enhancing foods into your diet.

The Global Health Data Exchange is described as one of the most comprehensive efforts to measure health-related data including dietary intake and mortality trends worldwide.11,12

Records compiled from the Global Health Data Exchange enabled a meticulous study of dietary behaviors and the impact on human life expectancy.

While not a controlled clinical or observational study, estimates were made for what constitutes an "optimized diet" and what dietary changes health-conscious people should follow.10

The longevity projections generated by this modeling received widespread favorable media coverage.10,13

What is an "Optimal Diet"

The Global Burden of Disease study showed significant longevity benefits in response to substantially higher intake of:11

  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes
  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts

And reduced ingestion of:

  • Red meat
  • Processed meat
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks
  • Refined grains

These dietary recommendations are well known to legacy readers of Life Extension Magazine®. They help corroborate what has long been espoused about healthy dietary choices.

Huge Potential Increases in Human Longevity

The beginning of this article describes the 8-year life expectancy increase that has been projected to occur when a 60-year-old switches to an optimal diet.10

Optimal diet is described as having a:

"Substantially higher intake than a typical diet of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, vegetables, and including a handful of nuts, while reducing red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains.""10

The projected increase in life expectancy for 60-year-old people who make these changes is a substantial 8.0 years (female) to 8.8 years (male).10

One reason men gain more life years with an "optimized diet" is that men tend to have more unhealthy eating/drinking habits. Men may thus benefit with more years by switching from an unhealthy diet to an optimized one.

If a 20-year-old makes the recommended sustained change from a typical Western diet to an optimal diet, the modeled lifespan increase would be:10

10.7 years for Women and 13.0 years for Men

Conversely, if an 80-year-old changes to a sustained optimized diet, the projected ranges for life expectancy increase are about:10

3.4 years for Men and Women

The modeling data sets show that the younger one is when initiating healthier dietary habits, the greater the potential longevity benefit.

This is not surprising since reversing the accumulated damage that occurs with aging is more challenging than preventing it. This is one reason why I am funding regenerative medicine research projects so that people of all ages can derive meaningful longevity enhancements.

Food Groups in an "Optimized Diet"

The Global Burden of Disease data identified specific food groups that impact human longevity.10

In this modeling study it was projected that, consuming more legumes beginning at age 20 adds 2.2 years to female life expectancy and 2.5 years to males.10

It is estimated that merely eating less red meat and processed meat beginning at age 20 would add1.6 years to female lifespan and 1.9 years to male lifespan.10

Switching from deleterious foods (like red and processed meat) to heathier foods (legumes and whole grains) yields substantial increases in life expectancy using this model.

Some legume choices include: Some common whole grain choices include:
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Peanuts
  • Black beans
  • Green peas
  • Lima beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils
  • Green beans
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers

The green arrows pointing up show what foods confer the greatest gains in longevity, with triple green arrows indicating the most beneficial. The red arrows pointing down show the foods that reduce human longevity, with triple red indicating the most detrimental.

Examples of nuts include a wide variety in their raw (not roasted) form such as:14

  • Brazil nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds

Walnuts alone, when eaten five times a week, are associated with a human lifespan increase of 1.3 years according to a 2021 study released by Harvard researchers. 15

Mushrooms Reduce Mortality Risk

A landmark study published in April 2021 followed the dietary patterns of 15,000 Americans for nearly 20 years.16

Compared to no consumption, those who consumed mushrooms in their diet had a 16% lower overall mortality risk.

When one serving a day of mushrooms was ingested instead of processed or red meats, there was a 35% reduction in all-cause mortality.

A trend toward even lower mortality was found in people who consumed higher amounts of mushrooms.

Scientists have long wondered what’s in mushrooms that enables people to live longer.

They found that mushrooms are a rich source of an amino acid called L-ergothioneine.17

Among other benefits, L-ergothioneine appears to protect DNA and reduce the shortening of telomeres.17,18

Low Mushroom Consumption in the United States

A correlation has been found between blood levels of L-ergothioneine and overall life expectancy.

One study compared the average daily intake of L-ergothioneine among several developed countries. 19

The countries with the lowest intake, such as the United States,19 had a lower average life expectancy.

Countries with the highest intake of ergothioneine have longer average lifespans.

Italians, on average, ingest more than four times greater amounts of L-ergothioneine daily compared to people in the United States.19

Studies are finding that higher blood levels of L-ergothioneine are associated with lower incidence of common age-related disorders.

For example, people with cataracts have lower levels of L-ergothioneine than those with healthy eye lenses. The degree of the compound’s depletion correlates with the severity of cataract formation. 20

L-ergothioneine levels tend to decline with advancing age.21-23 Oral intake can effectively raise blood levels.24

This can be accomplished by adding more mushrooms to your diet or ingesting a standardized L-ergothioneine supplement in a dose of about 5 mg each day.

I encourage readers to follow as many of the healthy dietary patterns described in this article as they can.

Data about an "optimized diet" provided further motivation for me to ingest foods that confer longevity.

For longer life,

For Longer Life

William Faloon


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