Note: This is a revised chapter from my recent book “10 Simple Principles of a Healthy Diet: How to Lose Weight, Look Young and Live Longer”
Food is a funny thing. We all eat it—all need it—yet many of us have complicated, if not fraught, relationships with it. Changing what you eat is the first step towards living a longer, better, and healthier life. It can improve everything from your appearance and health to your relationships and finances. This might sound too simple and too good to be true, but it’s real.
In decades to come, technological breakthroughs will play a leading role in extending our life spans. But that’s only worthy of celebration if you can live long enough to see them come to fruition. With regard to living longer, seemingly small choices like what you have for lunch or dinner add up in dramatic fashion over the course of decades. You may not see the effects of poor eating immediately, but eventually, you will. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the same can be said for good eating habits. They’ll add up and, in turn, help stave off disease and extend your life. You’ll have more energy and less illness. You’ll be more productive and motivated. And you’ll have more years on Earth to do the things you love with the people you love.
Now while I haven’t uncovered an easy trick to help you live to be 1,000 or patented a super-food recipe to cure the world’s major illnesses, I have simply realized—through firsthand experience and research—that changing our daily habits is a huge part of the equation for helping us live longer. It’s not rocket science; it starts with food.
The problem is not that we don’t have all the information we need—in fact, there’s never been more advice available. But that’s a double-edged sword. People are experiencing information overload—too much advice, much of it conflicting. And when people are overwhelmed, they tune out. Is red meat good or bad? Are blueberries actually a superfruit? Should you put butter in your coffee? Are carbs the devil, as the Atkins and keto diets suggest? Or is gluten to blame?
Sometimes, you hear one crazy thing on Monday, and by Friday it’s out of fashion. If you try to follow the headlines, you’ll likely lose your sanity—and your health definitely won’t improve. Eating right is much more important than it seems. It’s also much less complicated.
The good news is that after talking to nutrition experts and researching the topic myself, I’ve boiled the basics down to 10 Longevity Diet Principles. I personally believe that understanding and absorbing these 10 principles is more important than trying to follow a specific diet or a detailed checklist. Most diets tend to fail long term. Instead, you should try to incorporate these principles in a way that works for you. Ready? Here you go...
Principle 1: The more plants, the better
Simply add plants to each meal. My typical breakfast is homemade granola with a handful of berries and seeds or eggs with avocado. I always have either broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, or other vegetables as a garnish for lunch and dinner. If I snack, I opt for berries, nuts, or fresh veggies. Science has shown us over and over again that the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the lower our body mass index, and lower our risk for diseases.
Principle 2: Stay away from processed foods
The fewer ingredients on the label, the better. When I shop for groceries, I stay away from foods that have more than one ingredient. Add more raw foods and avoid processed ones. The impact of processed foods on health is well researched and trusted institutes like Mayo Clinic, Harvard, and others and various health authorities warn against processed and especially ultra-processed foods.
Principle 3: Know where your food comes from
I try to buy organic and local groceries from trusted sources. Some of the foods sold in regular supermarkets should have warning signs on their package similar to cigarettes, which is particularly true to the lower-end antibiotic- and god-knows-what-else rich meat, poultry, fish, and processed foods. Suggestive evidence indicates that organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and the risk of overweight and obesity.
Principle 4: Remove candy, sweets, and bread
Since I adapted longevity diet principles, I skip not only desserts and obvious sweets but also avoid all sugary drinks, fruit juices (even freshly squeezed), all salad dressings, marinades, and even energy bars. Consuming a lot of added sugar grows your risk of dying from heart disease.
Principle 5: Add in olive oil
Olive oil is central to the Mediterranean diet, which is often highlighted as the ideal mix of foods for health and longevity. Plus, by turning to olive oil as your go-to topping, you’ll avoid the sugar and high-fructose corn syrup hiding in ketchup, for instance, or refined vegetable oils found in most mayonnaise options. Numerous studies show that an increase in consumption of virgin olive oil and other plant products rich in polyphenolic compounds does seem to provide diverse health benefits.
Principle 6: Eat early in the day
Simply eating more of your calories earlier in the day can help you avoid obesity and its many risk factors. Since I started eating lunch-like breakfasts on a regular basis, it was easier for me to eat lighter dinners or skip them altogether! In our family, we try to have our last meal of the day at 6 p.m.
Principle 7: Consider intermittent fasting
I fast for 36 hours every week, from Monday evening until Wednesday morning. But you don’t need to be so radical like I am.
Having a food window of six, eight, or ten hours may be an easier way to start. You consume all your food during that window and fast the rest of the time. According to Dr. Osama Hamdy, “a lot of clinical data right now shows intermittent fasting has multiple benefits, not only for detox and weight loss but also for health and longevity.”
Principle 8: Fall in love with water
If you do, you’ll avoid drinks with more sugar and calories. I start my day with a couple of glasses of water and keep a big bottle on my office desk to make sure I stay hydrated. Plenty of research is available demonstrating numerous benefits of increased water intake.
Principle 9: Decide on dairy
Try quitting it. If you can’t say no to dairy completely, at least make better choices about what types of dairy you consume and where it’s sourced. If you have to eat dairy, organic and fermented choices become preferred after reading “The China Study” book 5 years ago, I quit eating dairy, and I feel very positive about this change. When it comes to the direct health impact of dairy, the existing science is mixed: some research warns against consuming too much dairy, while other studies show some benefits from regular dairy consumption.
Principle 10: Consume coffee and wine in moderation
It’s okay to have one to two glasses of red wine per occasion, but it should be done as early as possible and with food. I have 1-2 glasses of wine on Fridays and Saturdays —my sin days, and 1 espresso in the morning.
Coffee can provide some health benefits. For example, there are studies that demonstrate that on average coffee drinkers live longer than non-coffee drinkers. However, too much caffeine can have various negative effects, such as anxiety and disrupted sleep—but this depends greatly on the individual.
To make it easier for you to remember all this new information, take a look at these resources:
- An infographic called 10 Longevity Diet Principles which summarizes what I just shared above
- A Longevity Diet Shopping List to help decide on what to buy
You can simply print these files, stick them on your fridge, save them to your phone and check them whenever you are doing your grocery shopping or preparing your next meal. If you want to find out more about this topic, read my book 10 Simple Principles of a Healthy Diet: How to Lose Weight, Look Young and Live Longer”
Food is essential for your longevity. It can improve everything from your appearance and health to your relationships and finances. I want you to start feeling more energetic and healthy as a result of these very powerful 10 longevity diet principles. Give it a try and have fun!