While a cookie every now and then doesn’t mean you’re going to die tomorrow, what you eat can really affect how long you live. When you consider the cultures where people live the longest, it’s easy to see they share a lot of the same eating habits. Limiting meat and going for tons of produce are a few of the commonalities. Keep reading to discover five habits that will help you live longer.
1. Eat less meat
Scientists have found that societies who live the longest consume meat sparingly, and there’s good reason to adopt that dining habit. Research has found that people who consume about one serving of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) per day have a 13% increased risk of mortality, compared with those who were eating very little meat. And processed meat consumption resulted in about a 20% increased risk of death from diseases including cancer and heart disease.
The study found that people who replaced one serving of red meat with alternative foods decreased their risks of premature death by between 7% and 9%. So start switching up your proteins, and try to limit your intake by using meat to flavor your meals rather than star in them.
2. Eat fish regularly
Speaking of replacing red meat with healthier choices, you might want to consider fish. One review involving more than 670,000 participants found those who ate the most fish were at the lowest risk for death. It’s likely some of this has to do with the omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for both your heart and brain. Fish with the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna.
3. Reduce dairy
The human digestive system isn’t optimized for cow’s milk, so why are we consuming it? Calcium is the usual answer, but you can, and should, get your calcium from other sources. A cup of cooked kale, for example, gives you as much calcium as a cup of milk, and it may actually be easier for your body to absorb the calcium found in kale. Plus, plants are free of all the fat and sugar found in milk.
Interestingly, a study published in BMJ found that consuming milk was linked to greater risk of bone fractures and to earlier mortality. The research suggests that milk may increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. This contrasts with other research, so it’s probably not a good idea to make wild assumptions, but it seems like we may not need milk as much as we once thought.
4. Make plants the bulk of your diet
The very best foods for increasing your lifespan are leafy greens, but any plants are better than none. Researchers from Loma Linda University found that vegetarians had a 12% lower risk of dying over a six-year period, compared with non-vegetarians. Skeptical about how nutritionally sound a diet made of mostly produce is? Physicians have concluded that a plant-based diet is perfectly healthy.
5. Start eating sourdough bread
The bread you’ll find in the supermarket is a far cry from traditional bread, which is made with bacteria that “digest” the starch and gluten while helping the bread rise. This is the process that creates acid, which gives sourdough its flavor. The resulting bread is not only lower in gluten, but also helps lower the glycemic load of meals. This means that, as with other low GI food, sourdough bread will cause a gradual increase in blood sugar levels rather than a spike, making it a much healthier bread option.
If you’re looking to get health benefits from sourdough, make sure it’s true sourdough bread. Real sourdough is long fermentation of dough using naturally (or wild) occurring lactobacillus and yeasts.