Fuel for the Future: Top 10 Longevity Foods for a Long and Healthy Life
Most people would agree that they’d like to live a long life. However, what we really want are not just longer lifespans but also longer healthspans—the number of years lived without developing chronic conditions that impact our quality of life.
As no one wants to live to be 100-plus but with debilitating health concerns, many people are looking for ways to not only extend life but also maintain health into our later years. And one of the simplest ways to do so involves what we eat today—like these ten evidence-backed foods that can support aspects of lifespan and healthspan.
Top 10 Foods to Support Longevity and Healthy Aging
Walnuts contain several beneficial compounds that make them a nutrient powerhouse for supporting overall health, including healthy fats and antioxidant-rich compounds called polyphenols.
One of the primary polyphenols in walnuts is ellagic acid, which supports a healthy inflammatory response and fights oxidative stress—an accumulation of damaging compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS). Other beneficial compounds in walnuts include catechin, epicatechin (also found in green tea) and quercetin, a polyphenol linked to anti-aging and reduced inflammation.
While all nuts contain health-promoting polyunsaturated fats, walnuts are unique because they also contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which supports various aspects of heart, vascular, brain and gut health.
In a 20-year study of more than 120,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and over 51,000 males in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, walnut consumption was inversely associated with mortality rates. The greatest benefits were seen in those who ate the most walnuts (about 35 walnuts per week), with a 14% reduced mortality risk compared to people who never ate walnuts. But even just eating seven walnuts per week decreased mortality risk by 5%, indicating that just a handful can benefit lifespan.
Whether you love them or hate them, sardines are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. With benefits ranging from cardiovascular to cognitive to cosmetic, adequate omega-3 consumption has been linked to healthier aging, reduced risk of chronic disorders, and increased longevity. Per 4-ounce serving, sardines contain over 1,000mg of EPA and DHA and typically have lower mercury levels than larger fish. But if you’re not a fan of sardines, you can add herring, mackerel, anchovies, or salmon for similarly high omega-3 content.
Several studies have linked omega-3 fat consumption to increased longevity. One recent study of over 42,000 individuals found that people with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fats had a 15-18% reduced risk of dying from any cause over 16 years compared to those with the lowest levels. Another study found that people with higher levels of omega-3s in red blood cells had increased life expectancy by almost five years compared to those with lower levels. Even a 1% increase in blood omega-3 levels was associated with a change in mortality risk similar to that of quitting smoking.
Arugula is a peppery leafy green high in nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals. One of the primary bioactive compounds in arugula is erucin, which exhibits strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Arugula is also one of the best sources of dietary nitrates, which are vasodilating compounds that convert into nitric oxide in the body and are beneficial for cardiovascular health. As declining heart health is a leading cause of mortality, adding arugula to your daily diet could significantly boost healthspan and lifespan.
Other leafy greens are also beneficial, including spinach, kale, beet greens, cabbage, microgreens, collard greens, swiss chard, and more. A study from 2018 found that eating 1.3 servings of leafy greens per day led to better brain health, with the equivalent of being 11 years younger cognitively.
The pomegranate fruit is rich in the potent antioxidant ellagic acid, which is metabolized in the body to urolithin A—a compound that boosts mitochondrial function. It primarily does this by increasing mitophagy, the cellular recycling of damaged mitochondria to make room for healthy ones. This quality control mechanism is essential for longevity and protecting against age-related degeneration.
In a 2014 study with fruit flies, pomegranate juice extract extended the lifespan of male and female flies by 18 and 8%, respectively. Similarly, a study with roundworms—one of the most commonly used and versatile animal models of aging—found that pomegranate juice extended lifespan by up to 56%. In humans, older adults with memory complaints who drank 8 oz of pomegranate juice daily for four weeks had significant improvements in verbal and visual memory tests combined with increases in functional brain activity.
Many fruits in the berry family contain high levels of anthocyanins, especially blueberries. Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds that provide berries (and many other fruits and vegetables) with their deep blue, purple, or red pigments and function as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
In a study with roundworms, blueberry extract significantly increased lifespan in a dose-dependent manner—meaning, higher doses extended lifespan more. The highest dose of blueberry extract increased lifespan by 44%, in addition to improving motility and resistance to cellular stressors.
Research also shows that regular consumption of blueberries supports cardiovascular, cognitive, metabolic and eye health, which can contribute to longer healthspans. In a randomized controlled trial, older adults who supplemented with a purified wild blueberry extract for six months had significant improvements in episodic memory performance, visual memory, and cardiovascular function, including lower blood pressure.
Although technically fungi, mushrooms often get lumped into the vegetable category. With hundreds of varieties—some healthy, some toxic, some hallucinogenic—mushrooms definitely have a wide range.
Mushrooms are rich in a heart-healthy fiber called beta-glucan and antioxidants like selenium and ergothioneine—a polyphenol associated with neural protection whose levels decline in the body with age. Ergothioneine is linked to longevity—so much so that researchers have dubbed it a “longevity vitamin” despite its classification as an amino acid.
These factors have linked mushroom consumption to improved longevity. In a study of older Chinese adults, those who consumed mushrooms at least once per week had a 14% reduced risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who rarely ate them.
While all edible mushrooms are beneficial in some way, functional or medicinal mushrooms like lion’s mane, chaga and maitake may have even more benefits. Lion’s mane is thought to benefit the brain and nervous system, as it contains bioactive compounds called erinacines that support nerve growth factors, cognition, and neurogenesis—the growth of new neurons.
Lion’s mane has also exhibited antioxidant activity, as it scavenges for free radicals, reduces oxidative stress, and lowers the production of pro-inflammatory signaling compounds called cytokines. A clinical study found that 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women with declining cognitive function who took lion’s mane powder for 16 weeks had significantly improved cognitive scores. Previous research has also found that maitake and lion’s mane mushrooms reduce neuroinflammation and extend the lifespan of worms.
Broccoli is rich in many vitamins and minerals—but it also contains longevity-promoting bioactive compounds like sulforaphane. Sulforaphane supports health by acting as a potent antioxidant, participating in detoxification and supporting blood glucose control.
Sulforaphane’s anti-aging and health-promoting properties are mediated through several processes, including reducing levels of oxidative stress. Additionally, sulforaphane may act on longevity pathways by delaying cellular senescence—when cells irreversibly stop dividing and lose function but remain in the body, secreting inflammatory compounds to nearby tissues.
Research has found that adding sulforaphane-rich broccoli extended the lifespan of a not-so-typical lab subject, the red flour beetle, by 30%. Another study found that eating broccoli sprouts prolonged lifespan in female rats, in addition to reducing body weight, visceral fat, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
In addition to broccoli, sulforaphane is also found in other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, bok choy, kale and Brussels sprouts.
Native to Southeast Asia, ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) is a flowering plant, but the most commonly consumed part of ginger is its root. Although there are hundreds of bioactive compounds in ginger, the most prominent are gingerols, shogaols, paradols and zingerone, which contribute to ginger’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties—and its spicy flavor.
Of the various compounds in ginger, researchers have found gingerenone A and 6-shoagal to be the most potent for anti-aging, as they act as senotherapeutics—compounds that kill off senescent cells selectively. Gingerenone A also reduces levels of many pro-inflammatory cytokines and other detrimental molecules.
In a study of healthy middle-aged women, supplementing with 400 or 800mg of ginger extract for two months led to significant improvements in working memory and overall cognitive function. Regular consumption of ginger may also lengthen healthspan by supporting cardiovascular, joint, respiratory, gastrointestinal and metabolic health.
Garlic is rich in potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial organosulfur compounds—especially allicin, an antioxidant that has been studied for its role in preserving cognitive and immune function with age.
In a study of over 27,000 older adults in China, people who consumed garlic five times per week or more had an 11% reduced risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who rarely ate garlic. In research with roundworms, adding a garlic compound called diallyl trisulfide increased their lifespan by up to 12.6%.
Garlic is also linked to improved cardiovascular function, as seen in a study of people with poor heart health. Those who took aged garlic extract for six weeks experienced significant improvements in blood pressure, a strong predictor of declining cardiovascular function.
10. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and kimchi are known to benefit digestive health—but they also support cognitive, metabolic and cardiovascular health and possibly even extend lifespan. In a study of Japanese adults, drinking a fermented milk drink (similar to kefir) for eight weeks significantly improved both attention and delayed memory scores.
Many fermented foods contain plentiful nutrients, phytochemicals, bioactive compounds and healthy microbes that provide anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory functions. Plus, it’s well-known that fermented foods benefit our gut bacteria—and a healthy gut microbiome is linked to healthier aging and longevity.
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