#151 The Number One Food to Live to 100

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The Number One Food to Live to 100

Have you ever wondered what the secret is to a long life?  Is there a certain food to live to 100?

Even if you have no intention of ever living to 100, those who make it to 100 are often still doing everything they did in their 40s or 50s at age 90.  Read on to find out the number one food to live to 100.

The “Fountain of Youth” Food Study

In 2004, professor Irene Darmadi-Blackberry from La Trobe University in Australia published a study that was completely overlooked by most of the medical community.  As diets and life expectancy vary greatly from one country to another, Dr. Darmadi-Blackberry was convinced that a specific food could confer longevity.

To search for this “Fountain of Youth” food, Dr. Darmadi-Blackberry studied 785 people from four of the longest-lived countries.  These four countries were Japan, Australia, Sweden, and Greece.  All four of these countries have a life expectancy much longer than the U.S.

As you might imagine, what people eat in Japan, Australia, Sweden, and Greece vary dramatically.  After carefully dissecting through the food logs of these 785 people, Dr. Darmadi-Blackberry and her colleagues found that eating legumes was the number one food predictor of longevity in these four countries.

Which legumes people ate also varied by country.  For example, the Japanese ate mostly soy in the form of tofu, natto, or miso whereas the Swedes preferred brown beans and peas.  The Greek preferred lentils, white peans, and garbanzo beans.  Kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, peas, and mung beans were popular in Australia.

Specifically, she found that for every 20 grams of legumes eaten each day, you could live 8% longer.  While legumes came out as the number one food for longevity, fish and olive oil also conferred longevity in this study.

Twenty grams of legumes each day really isn’t that much.  Basically, 20 grams works out to be two tablespoons of beans or lentils every day.  Even the pickiest eater could tolerate just two tablespoons.

I should point out that this was an observational study.  In other words, people in these four countries were “observed” to live longer if they ate legumes.  This study certainly doesn’t prove you will live longer if you start eating legumes.  There could have been other factors that contributed to the longevity of legume eaters.

What are legumes?

A legume is a plant whose seeds grow in a pod.  Legumes are often classified as a protein or a vegetable.  Even though peanuts behave like nuts nutritionally, they are technically a legume.

Will legumes give you gas?

When I encourage my patients to eat more legumes, many fear that legumes will give them gas.  Gas really only comes from two places, swallowing air or fermentation in the gut.  Of these two, swallowing air from chewing gum, sucking through a straw, eating too fast, or talking while you are eating probably causes more gas than eating legumes.

It is true that some people will have gas when they first start eating legumes.  However, this fear is greatly overestimated.

When you look at the medical studies, it is the rare person who still has gas after a few weeks of eating legumes.  For example, one study showed that within a few weeks more than 80% of people have no more gas than when they didn’t eat legumes.  In contrast, another study demonstrated no increased gas with legumes.

If you are that rare person who does have gas with legumes, the dietary supplement which contains the enzyme, alpha-galactosidase which is also known as “Beano,” can help.  Indeed, one study showed that Beano helped with gas and bloating.

Which diet is best to live to 100?

While most people look at what diet will help them lose the most weight, the best diet is the one that confers the best health.  As discussed, the diets of Japan, Australia, Sweden, and Greece varied widely.

For example, the average Japanese person in this study ate a mere 1,599 calories each day whereas the typical person in Sweden ate a hearty 2,501 calories daily.  The average Japanese person ate five times more fish than someone living in Australia.  The Swedes consumed the most dairy.  The Greeks and Australians ate much more animal meat than the Japanese.

Meat or no meat?  Dairy or no dairy?  Which is best?

From this study, it may not matter.  The really answer may also be in what they didn’t eat.  People from these four long-lived countries ate much less sugar, processed carbohydrates, and fast foods than what we do in the U.S.

Food doesn’t have to be that complex for optimal health.  The real answer is just to eat real food in the least processed state possible.

Six Reasons Why Legumes Will Help You Live to 100

If you are like me, you probably want to know how legumes may extend your life.  Here are the top six reasons why legumes will help you live to 100.

1. Achieve a Healthy Weight

Obesity can rob you of 14 years of life according to medical studies.  Thus, maintaining a healthy weight has consistently been shown as one of the best things you can do to stay healthy throughout your life.  Legumes can help you achieve this goal.

In a recently published study, Dr. Russell de Souza and colleagues from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, showed in a review of 21 studies involving 940 people, that legumes caused weight loss.  For those already at a healthy weight, legumes helped them to maintain an optimal weight.

2. Prevent Diabetes

Diabetes may cut your life short by 13 years according to medical studies.  Anything you can do to keep your glucose and hemoglobin A1C levels in the normal range will likely allow you to live longer.  Legumes can help you with this goal.

Many studies have shown that legumes may prevent diabetes.  This is likely because legumes are low glycemic while also high in protein and fiber.

3. Reduce Cholesterol and Triglycerides

For those with high cholesterol, legumes are an important way to lower your cholesterol naturally.  Indeed, studies show that legumes lower total cholesterol by 7% and LDL (bad cholesterol) by 6%.  They also increase HDL (good cholesterol) by 3%.  To put these numbers in perspective, daily legumes will lower your cholesterol about the same as taking a half dose of a statin.

4. Lower Blood Pressure

Lower blood pressure readings have consistently been associated with longevity in medical studies.  While the blood pressure lowering effects of legumes seen in studies is modest (2 mmHg), this is still the equivalent of taking a quarter dose of a blood pressure medication.

5. Less Heart Disease

As heart disease is the number one killer in the Western world, anything that lowers heart disease would be expected to prolong life.  Indeed, from a study of over a half million people, researchers found that legumes decrease your chances of dying from heart disease by 24%.

6. Less Cancer

Right behind heart disease, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Western world.  To help reduce your risk of cancer, one study of two million people showed that legumes can decrease your risk of colon cancer by 9%.

Take Home Message

The reason why I loved this much overlooked study by Dr. Darmadi-Blackberry is that it shows that healthy eating is really simple.  It really didn’t matter how much meat, dairy, or total carbohydrates people from these long-lived countries ate, provided it was real food.

Indeed, people from these four long lived countries thrived on very different diets.  Legumes, in addition to vegetables and fruits, were an important part of all these diets.  Legumes may be the number one food to live to 100.  What these diets lacked was a lot of sugar, processed carbohydrates, and fast foods.

What is your take on diet and longevity?  Do you get your two tablespoons of legumes each day?

Please leave your comments below.  Also, if you have any questions about what you have just read, please post your questions below.  I will do my best to answer these questions as quickly as I can.

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6 Comments
  1. Dr. Day,

    I keep hearing conflicting information out there regarding the best diet (and I try to stick with credible sources and avoid the latest fads). I hear a lot about good evidence of a plant-based vegan diet as being best. Then I heard on a morning show today put on by a host who I greatly respect (she only interviews credible people as far as I can tell), from the M.D. she was interviewing who claims that one needs a certain amount of quality protein for weight loss and maximal health (along with good exercise). His recommendation is a bunch of protein for breakfast then a bunch for dinner (8 ounces of meat). His claim is it needs to be highly “bioavailable” protein (veggies, legumes, nuts, and dairy are not bioavailable although they technically have high protein). He said that eggs are the most bioavailable (near 100%) followed closely by “anything that has eyes” (that is, meat). He said stay away from dairy because it also is inflammatory.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • Hi Diane,

      I agree, it can be very confusing. The problem is that medical science, especially nutritional science, is not perfect. Also, there are many poor nutritional studies which have been published over the years.

      What we do know is that people have thrived on just about every diet except the standard American diet. As long as you can avoid added sugars and processed foods, you are 90% of the way there.

      It is true that the science suggests that the high protein/low carb way of eating is best for weight loss. However, this way of eating has also been shown to activate some of the inflammatory pathways in the body.

      From a science perspective, the nutritional benefits of veggies, legumes, and nuts are irrefutable. Veggies, legumes, and nuts are consistently associated with weight loss or maintenance of a healthy weight, reversal of chronic diseases, and longevity.

      With regards to dairy, I have previously written an article: http://drjohnday.com/is-dairy-good-for-you/

      Hope this helps!

      John

  2. Here is an easy bean porridge your readers may find interesting. My wife and I moved our large meal to mid day and replaced the protein portion of the evening meal with a simple bean porridge. It is a variation on the the eight treasure congee often eaten for breakfast in China. We premix beans and grains so we can quickly add water and start them in the slow cooker first thing in the morning. In the evening we have a nice healthy bean porridge waiting for us. There is no need to presoak the beans and you can make a fresh batch every day or make enough for a few meals and refrigerate the leftovers. Variations are unlimited, but this is our mix: Equal parts of red beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, navy beans and soy beans rinsed and added to equal parts of barley, brown rice, and steel cut oats. Add 5 cups of water for every cup of beans + grain. Done! I usually throw in a handful of walnuts when we have them around. For those who prefer it sweet, we add a touch of honey to the bowl when served.