Better skin and prettier hair are nice, but at the end of the day, we’ll always choose longer, healthier lives. Which is why we exercise regularly and fill our plates with these foods—the virtues of which are all supported by cold, hard scientific facts. Scroll through for your live-longer grocery list!
A large Chinese study (when we say large, we mean nearly half a million participants) found that people who ate spicy foods six to seven times a week had a 14% lower risk of premature death (of all causes) than those who ate spicy foods less frequently. They showed a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. Can’t handle the spice seven days a week? Don’t worry; those who ate spicy foods twice a week had a 10% lower risk of death than those who rarely or never ate them. You can thank capsaicin, the molecule responsible for that hot sensation in chili peppers, for the life-extending properties.
Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin C, vitamin D, and a whopping 400% of the daily amount of vitamin A your body needs. More importantly, they contain a high amount of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. A 14-year study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that consumption of high levels of alpha-carotene reduced the risk of dying (of all causes) by up to 39% among the more than 15,000 adults in the study.
Antioxidant-rich dark chocolate also happens to be packed with flavonoids. (Flavonoids are also what makes cocoa so heart healthy!) They improve blood flow and help prevent blood clots by regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Additionally, the combination of antioxidants and flavonoids makes dark chocolate highly anti-inflammatory. Research shows that inflammation is highly correlated with aging and age-related diseases, so keep anti-inflammatory foods in your diet to keep your life long and healthy. But the bad news is that your Milky Way Midnight Dark isn’t cutting it. To reap the benefits, eat just two to four squares of at least 70% to 75% cocoa.
Fatty cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines are an omega-3 gold mine. The fatty acids in these oily fish protect your heart and reduce your risk of brain damage and stroke. Meanwhile, vitamins A and D boost your immune system. Studies show that oily-fish consumption not only reduces inflammation but also protects your brain against cognitive decline.
A 30-year-long study of the nut-eating habits of Dutch people between the ages of 55 and 69 determined that eating a small serving of nuts every day reduced mortality by as much as 23%. Pecans, in particular, have gamma-tocopherols, a type of vitamin E that helps lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol), making them particularly beneficial to your health. Almonds and walnuts also rank high on the list of life-extending nuts.
Fiber, folate, antioxidants, and vitamin E all contribute to making apples a healthy choice, and the flavonoid quercetin offers even more benefits. Lab studies on animals show it protects the brain and, along with the polyphenols in apples, increases life spans by 10%. One human study found that women who regularly eat apples have a 13% to 22% decrease in the risk of heart disease (the number one killer of women).
By now, you know berries are rich in antioxidants. One particular antioxidant, called anthocyanin, supports muscle retention and brain function. The link between berries and brain health has long been established in animals. More recently, a large study of middle-aged women found a link between a diet high in strawberries and blueberries and a slower rate of mental decline. The soluble fiber in berries also lowers cholesterol levels, keeping your heart happy and strong.
Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium, and flavonoids (which fight off cancer cells). Just one cup of kale has an impressive 700% of your daily requirement of vitamin K. One study found that one serving of dark leafy greens a day can hamper age-related cognitive decline. Researchers say it’s the high levels of vitamin K that will keep your brain young as you age.
For more life-extending foods and diet advice, pick up Eat Right, Live Longer ($5) by Neal Barnard, M.D.
How many of these foods are already in your diet? Tell us below!