Health Library

October 2013

5 Foods That May Lengthen—or Shorten—Your Lifespan

Science may be tweaking the old adage “you are what you eat.” Five recent studies dish out which foods may be better than others in helping us live longer. They suggest it may be more suitable to say “your age is what you eat.”

Fruits and vegetables

We may be missing out on this powerful dietary duo. The average American eats less than three servings a day of fruits and veggies. That’s two shy of what health experts recommend. Produce is packed with vitamins and nutrients. What’s more, a recent study of approximately 71,000 people found those who ate fewer than five servings of fruits and veggies daily tended to die earlier. In fact, those who didn’t eat any lived an average of three fewer years.

Whole grains

The grain group includes foods like bread, cereal, barley, and rice. These can be either refined or whole. The latter is proving to be a healthier option. Whole grains haven’t been stripped of beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, iron, and B vitamins. In a large study of older men and women, more fiber—specifically that found in whole grains—was linked to a 22 percent lower risk for death. Those who filled up on more fiber were less likely to die from heart disease, infectious diseases, or respiratory problems.


The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week. A good protein choice, it has little saturated fat—a contributor to heart disease. Plus, certain fish—such as salmon, tuna, and trout—are teeming with omega-3 fatty acids. Already linked to better heart health, these acids may also help people live longer. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that older adults with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood lived two years longer on average.

Processed meats

Unlike fish, processed meats are a poor protein pick. In a study of nearly 450,000 people, researchers spied a potential life-lessening connection. Women and men who polished off more processed meats often died at a younger age. The main culprits: heart disease and cancer. Hot dogs, bacon, and deli meat contain saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt—a heart-harming trio. Many of these foods are also prepared by curing or smoking. These processes introduce possible cancer-causing compounds, such as nitrates.


For millions of people in the U.S.—and even more worldwide—drinking coffee is a daily habit. But you may want to limit your number of cups, especially if you are younger than age 55. In the journal Mayo Clinical Proceedings, researchers asked 43,000 adults how much coffee they drank every day. They then followed the health of the participants for an average of 17 years. Younger people who drank more than four cups daily were more likely to die sooner than those who opted for other beverage choices. But coffee has health benefits, too. It may help thinking skills and provide protection against certain diseases.


Wondering how to stay energized throughout the day? Find out here. 

Online Resources

USDA – Choose MyPlate

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Dietary Guidelines for Americans