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Food Features

Super Foods for Extreme Longevity

Regional Specialties Favoured by Long-Lived People Around the World

by Julie Daniluk, R.H.N. RSS

Olives and olive oil are favourite foods of long-lived people who populate Mediterranean countries

Olives and olive oil are favourite foods of long-lived people who populate Mediterranean countries

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Do you want to live to 110? You might be surprised by how many people are reluctant to answer that question with enthusiasm. One reason for the reluctance is they believe that their final 10 years will be full of pain. So, a better question would be one that focuses on one’s ‘health’ span rather than just ‘life’ span. What if you could live to 110 with vitality, purpose, and happiness? Why do some people thrive well past 100 years of age with mobility, mental clarity, and energy – yet others have their light snuffed out too soon?

A supercentenarian is someone who has lived to their 110th birthday or beyond (Jeanne Louise Clement still holds the record as the longest confirmed human lifespan living 122 years, 164 days). What I find fascinating is that nearly all people who live this long are free of major age-related diseases like dementia, Type 2 diabetes, or auto-immune disease. When they finally pass away, they often go peacefully, during a nap for example. Is it luck? Genes? Or do they have habits that we can adopt which could lead us to this kind of graceful aging? As a holistic nutritionist and anti-inflammatory expert, I have spent my life seeking answers to this question, and the answer is a resounding yes – we can do it too.

Lifestyles of the Longest-Lived People

Contrary to the gene theory, it is our lifestyle choices that make the greatest impact on longevity. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer and author of The Blue Zones, has reported on distinct lifestyle practices which everyone living over 100 with vitality has in common. The longest-living people live in the following regions: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Before looking at their diet, let's review a few of the lifestyle habits that are common among the longest living on earth:

1) Do Authentic Movement: All long-lived people get lots of exercise from physical work in gardens, farms, and around the house. Dog walking, bike riding, and gardening also contribute to the longevity ‘healthstyle’.

2) Have a Purpose: It is important to find a place of contribution so that one can stay engaged and positive as you age. Instead of retirement, many centenarians embrace jobs that they love, including managing community gardens or taking care of grandchildren.

3) Love: One of the cornerstones of longevity is expressing gratitude and sharing love with one’s tribe. The reduction of stress dramatically reduces inflammation.

4) Eat Anti-inflammatory Food: Menus of the long-lived are packed with anti-aging nutrients that have the power to enhance and extend life. A focus on plants, fibre, and omega-3 is key, and the good news is every menu has flavourful fats that make meals taste great!

Favourite Foods of Centenarians

Let’s take a tour around the world to learn some of the powerful foods that are eaten in longevity zones.

SARDINIA

Dandelion Greens – These rank high in overall nutritional value amongst leafy greens and are loaded with antioxidants such as polyphenols, vitamins A, and C. Their antioxidant potential is of particular significance for longevity because it decreases oxidative stress (which underlies the disease process) and slows down the aging of our cells. Dandelion greens are also wonderful for protecting the liver and supporting its function as the main detoxification organ in the body, protecting us from toxins that can both age us and increase our risk of diseases. 

Fennel – In Indian and Greek mythology, fennel symbolizes longevity and immortality. Part of the parsley family, fennel is used both as a vegetable and a spice. It is well known as a natural remedy for digestive disorders, and also acts as an anti-inflammatory food, reducing the risk of disease and increasing antioxidant activity in the body. In addition, it affects cholesterol levels by increasing good cholesterol (HDL) and inhibiting the oxidation of bad cholesterol (LDL). Between that and its high potassium content, fennel is great at supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. 

Sardines – May be small in size and environmental footprint, but they are mighty in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients such as vitamin D, selenium, and vitamin B12. The numerous health benefits of omega-3s come from their anti-inflammatory action, which helps to prevent many chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids can keep the LDL cholesterol in check, while increasing HDL cholesterol levels and nourishing the cardiovascular system.

JAPAN

Seaweeds – contain many bioactive compounds and polysaccharides that are not found in any terrestrial plants. Studies comparing Japanese to Western diets have linked the consumption of seaweed to a decrease in chronic diseases such as cancer, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Many seaweed species contain healthy fatty acids such as long-chain omega-3s and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are protective for the cardiovascular system. As well, seaweeds have anti-cancer properties, as shown by studies linking seaweed to reduced cancer risk, especially breast cancer in premenopausal women via estrogen metabolism.

Ginger – Rich in phytonutrients, ginger is frequently used as a spice and condiment to add flavour to food. But flavour and aroma is not the only reason to use ginger. It has many medicinal properties such as decreasing inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure. This herb can also decrease the risk of various cancers such as colorectal, ovarian, liver, skin, breast, and prostate. Gingerols, shogaol, and paradols are this plant’s functional ingredients which work to promote health and alleviate many ailments, even slowing down the aging process in our cells.

GREECE

Garlic – is a truly a wonderful plant with strong healing powers. It can kill microbes (bacteria, fungus, viruses), lower blood pressure and cholesterol, thin the blood to prevent blood clots, and even prevent cancer. What makes it so powerful is its high content of sulfur compounds, which are responsible for its flavour, odour, and medicinal benefits. Another important compound is allicin, which is what makes garlic such a terrific natural antibiotic that can kill or inhibit the growth of many microorganisms including salmonella, E. coli, Staph aureus, and H. pylori to name a few.

Olives – and olive oil are staples in the diets of those who populate countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. These people tend to have a lower incidence of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and enjoy increased longevity and life expectancy. Olives are high in oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid) and phenols, both beneficial for normalizing cholesterol levels.

Olive oil contains the highest amount of squalene (a plant-based fat) compared to other seasoning oils, and is the compound linked to chemoprotection and lower incidence of cancers seen in those who consume a Mediterranean diet. Olive oil’s components are anti-inflammatory and play a role in decreasing the inflammation involved in the process of bone resorption in postmenopausal women, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.

CALIFORNIA

Avocados – Consumers of avocados get significantly more vitamin K, E, potassium, and magnesium than those who skip this fruit. Avocados are also high in the B vitamins, choline, phytosterols, and healthy fats which support a wide range of health benefits. The daily consumption of avocados has been shown as beneficial for keeping cholesterol levels and body weight healthy. Avocados contain good levels of both vitamin C and E, as well as xanthophylls, a class of carotenoids, all acting as antioxidants to protect against DNA damage. Not only are avocados great at supporting longevity internally, they also inhibit the aging of skin due to their highly bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin levels that protect against UV damage.

Almonds – Despite being high in fat, almonds are quite nutritious and healthy. They contain lots of good fats, fibre, magnesium, and vitamin E. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats and their consumption is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Additionally, the vitamin E (tocopherols) found in almonds is strongly antioxidant and prevents the cholesterol from becoming oxidized. The magnesium content is fantastic at lowering blood pressure by relaxing the muscle tissue in the arteries.

Spirulina – is a microalgae rich in carotenoids and antioxidant compounds. Spirulina has been reported to decrease oxidative stress and reduce cholesterol levels. The exact compound in spirulina responsible for lowering cholesterol levels is still unknown but it is suspected to be phycocyanin, a protein. Phycocyanin is also important for cancer prevention, along with beta-carotenoids which potentially help protect against cancer due to their antioxidant action and immune modulation characteristics. Spirulina is low in calories but high in nutrients, iodine, folate, and magnesium.

COSTA RICA

Cocoa – Not only is cocoa delightful to eat, it contains approximately 380 bioactive compounds such as polyphenols (catechins) and methylxanthines. In fact, cocoa has a higher level of phenols than green tea and red wine, making it a powerful antioxidant. Studies show that regular consumption of cocoa rich in polyphenols is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. The high polyphenol profile increases HDL, decreases LDL, and improves blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Coconut – has different parts and uses: the liquid water portion contains high levels of B vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and vitamin C; the dried kernel (copra) is mainly fat and used for oil extraction. The fatty acid profile of coconut is what makes it one of today’s most popular superfoods – coconut oil is one of the richest sources of a saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs are absorbed and used quickly by the body as a source of energy or converted to ketone bodies, beneficial for brain health. Coconuts and coconut oil also contain flavonoids and other polyphenols that act as antioxidants, protecting against free radicals, oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and cancer.

View the full printable recipe

This simple salad can be added to lunch or dinner. Try it with baked sardines for extra omega nutrition!

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups dandelion leaves, chopped
  • Dressing:
  • 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp pink or gray sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp honey or coconut nectar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Optional boosters:
  • 3 freshly baked sardines (use BPA-free canned if necessary)
  • Swap 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for omega-3 oil
  • ¼ cup olives, sliced
Fennel Ginger Salad combines the anti-inflammatory power of fennel with the anti-aging properties of ginger.

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This salad combines the anti-inflammatory power of fennel with the pungent, digestion-stimulating effects of ginger.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups sliced fennel
  • 1/2 cup green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large tangerine, peeled and sectioned
  • 1 large pear, cubed
  • 1 large apple, cubed
  • 1 large ripe avocado, cubed
  • Dressing:
  • 1/4 cup sugar-free pickled ginger, chopped**
  • 4 Tbsp grassweed Vergennes
  • 4 Tbsp flax or hemp seed oil
  • 2 tsp umbertos plum paste* or 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
A sugar-free avocado smoothie bowl.

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I love smoothie bowls for breakfast – fast, easy, and so delicious. This recipe is great for those following a sugar-free plan. Otherwise, you may wish to add in the banana for extra creaminess. All of these ingredients feed the brain and provide the mental focus and energy you need to get up and go first thing in the morning.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 tsp spirulina
  • 1 cup coconut beverage
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower lecithin
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp inositol powder (use more stevia if you don’t have this)
  • 10 drops stevia liquid or 1 Tbsp of raw honey
  • Optional Ingredients:
  • 1 banana
  • 2 Tbsp hemp hearts
  • 1 Tbsp gelatin
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut butter

View the full printable recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups arame or hijiki (seaweed cut into thin strips)

  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1 cup cucumber, quartered and chopped
  • 1/2 cup green onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup carrots, julienne or shredded
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp tamarin (wheat free)

Cavemen Chocolate will satisfy your chocolate cravings.

View the full printable recipe

Having a chocolate craving but can’t find a treat without cane sugar or dairy? Here’s the answer for you!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup raw cocoa powder
  • 3 Tbsp honey or coconut syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or mint extract
  • Optional Toppings: almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, coconut, cinnamon, coarse sea salt, dried fruit. Pour over fruit in ice cube trays for a fancy look!

References

Dandelion References:
•    Al-Malki A. Abo-Golayel M., Abo-Elnaga G., Al-Beshri H. “Hepatoprotective effect of dandelion against induced chronic liver cirrhosis”.  Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. (2013); 7: 1494-1505. http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380726574_Al-Malki%20et%20al.pdf
•    Fiedor J., Burda K. “Potential role of carotenoids as antioxidants in human health and disease”. Nutrients. (2014); 6: 466-488. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942711/
•    Ozcan M., Paksoy M., Unver A. “The antioxidant capacity and total phenol contents of leave and roots of Taraxacum officinale”. Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies. (2012); 18: 270-271. http://www.journal-of-agroalimentary.ro/admin/articole/90780L03_Guneyk_Vol.18_4_2012_270-271.pdf

Fennel References:
•    Choi E., Hwang J. “Antiinflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant activities of the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare”. Fitoterapia. (2004); 557-565. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15351109
•    Willcox D., Willcox B., Todoriki H., Suzuki M. “The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load”. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2009); 28: 500S-516S. http://www.okicent.org/docs/500s_willcox_okinawa_diet.pdf
Sardines References:
•    Zhang R., Naughton D. “Vitamin D in health and disease: Current perspective”. Nutrition Journal. (2010); 9: 65. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21143872
•    Kris-Etherton P. Harris W., Appel L. “Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease”.Circulation. (2002); 106: 2747-2757. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/106/21/2747
•    Bulliyya G. “Influence of fish consumption on the distribution of serum cholesterol in lipoprotein fractions: comparative study among fish-consuming and non-fish-consuming population”. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2002); 11: 104-111. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1440-6047.2002.00256.x/abstract
Seaweed References:
•    Brown E., Allsopp P., Magee P., Gill C., Nitecki S., Strain C., McSorley E. “Seaweed and human health”. Nutrition Reviews. (2014): 72; 205-216. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nure.12091/abstract
•    Willcox D., Willcox B., Todoriki H., Suzuki M. “The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load”. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2009); 28: 500S-516S. http://www.okicent.org/docs/500s_willcox_okinawa_diet.pdf

Ginger References:
•    Mashhadi N., Ghiasvand R., Askari G., Hariri M., Darvishi L., Mofid M. “Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence”. Int J Prev Med. (2013); 4: S36-S42. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/

Garlic References:
•    Gebreyohannes G., Gebreyohannes M. “Medicinal values of garlic: a review”. International Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences. (2013); 5: 401-408. http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1378915996_Gebreyohannes%20and%20Gebreyohannes.pdf
Bayan L., Koulivand P., Gorji A. “Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects”. Avicenna J Phytomed. (2014); 4: 1-14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/

Olive References:
•    Omar S. “Olive: native of Mediterranean region and health benefits”. Pharmacognosy Reviews. (2008); 2: 135-142. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/201820717_Olive_Native_of_Mediterranean_region_and_Health_benefits
•    Del Rio L., Gutierrez-Casado E., Varela-Lopez A., Villalba J. “Olive oil and the hallmarks of aging”. Molecules. (2016); 21: 1-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26840281

Avocado References:
•    Dreher M., Davenport A. “Hass avocado composition and potential health effects”. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. (2013); 53: 738-750. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3664913/

Almond References:
•    Ros E. “Health benefits of nut consumption”. Nutrients. (2010); 2: 652-682. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257681/
•    Jenkins D., Kendall C., MArchie A., Parker T., Connelly P., Quian W., Haight J., Faulkner D., Vidgen E., Lapsley K., Spiller G. “Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: blood lipids, oxidized low-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial”. Circulation. (2002); 106: 1327-1332. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12221048

Spirulina References:
•    Willcox D., Willcox B., Todoriki H., Suzuki M. “The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load”. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2009); 28: 500S-516S. http://www.okicent.org/docs/500s_willcox_okinawa_diet.pdf
•    Deng R., Chow T. “Hypolipidemic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of microalgae spirulina”. Cardiovasc Ther. (2010); 28: e33-e45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907180/
•    Karkos P., Leong S., Karkos C., Sivaj N., Assimakopoulos D. “Spirulina in clinical pactice: evidence-based human applications”. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2011); 1-4. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/531053/

Cocoa References:
•Andjuar I., Recio M., Giner R., Rios J. “Cocoa polyphenols and their potential benefits for human health”. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. (2012); 23. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2012/906252/
•    Franco R., Onatibia-Astibia A., Martinez-Pinilla E. “Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate”. Nutrients. (2013); 5: 4159-4173. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820066/
•    Goya L., Martin M., Sarria B., Ramos S., Mateos R., Bravo L. “Effect of cocoa and its flavonoids on biomarkers of inflammation: studies of cell culture, animals and humans”. Nutrients. (2016); 8: 212. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27070643
Coconut References:
•    Boemeke L., Marcadenti A., Busnello F., Gottschall C. “Effects of coconut oil on human health”. Journal of Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases. (2015); 5: 84-87. http://www.scirp.org/journal/Paperinformation.aspx?PaperID=58405
•    DebMandal M., Mandal S. “Coconut: in health promotion and disease prevention”. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. (2011); 241-247. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1995764511600783

For more interesting facts on longevity: Buettner, Dan (2012-11-06). The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest. National Geographic Books. ISBN 9781426209499.

Article Tags: julie daniluk, foods for longevity, favourite foods of centenarians, health benefits of olive oil, mediterranean diet for long life, fennel herb health benefits, lifestyles of long-living people

About the Author

More Articles by Julie Daniluk, R.H.N.

Julie Daniluk, R.H.N.

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, R.H.N., is a graduate of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. She hosts The Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in Canada, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Julie’s new book, Hot Detox, provides an easy and delicious way to cleanse. Combining groundbreaking science with ancient Asian wisdom, Hot Detox walks you through a 3-, 10-, or 21-day detox plan with amazing results. She has a 21 day course and extra book bonuses at http://www.HotDetox.com

Her bestselling book, Meals that Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free eating that tastes great and assists the body in the healing process. Julie is also and in-house nutrition expert on the Marilyn Denis Show (CTV).

Connect with Julie on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JulieDaniluk and check out her amazing recipes and nutrition tips at http://www.juliedaniluk.com