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Tech execs like Bryan Johnson and Sam Altman are optimizing their diets to live longer. Here's what experts say to eat to expand your lifespan, from blueberries to red onions.

blueberries
Blueberries contain anthocyanin — an antioxidant that gives the fruit its color and helps with cognitive function.Pixabay
  • As a quest for longevity sweeps the nation, people are taking supplements and prescription pills to reverse aging.

  • Research shows that diet also plays a role in determining — and even increasing — a person's lifespan.

  • Here's a list of fruits, vegetables, and drinks that experts say can lead to a longer life.

Some billionaires, like Elon Musk, opt for a donut for breakfast. Others, like biotech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, methodically prepare smoothies with compounds like creatine, spermidine, and collagen peptides, and consume copious amounts of vegetables

Tech billionaires clearly don't have identical diets, or even the same goals for their health. Still, those like Johnson aren't abiding by fastidious nutrition plans simply to stay healthy — they're aiming to live longer.

Mind your protein intake

Although there's certainly an overlap between eating for general health and eating to live longer, longevity experts say there are also a few key differences.  Dr. Anant Vinjamoori, chief medical officer of longevity-focused healthcare company Modern Age, suggests looking at protein intake as an example.

"Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, and having adequate muscle mass is important for healthy aging." At the same time, Vinjamoori said, "protein intake is also known to work against some of the beneficial, restorative pathways in our body."

That idea is corroborated by the work of Dan Buettner, who founded the longevity brand Blue Zones.

Buettner spent years studying the habits of those in what are called "Blue Zones," regions of the world where people tend to live to the age of 100.

Across all five Blue Zones — Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan — Buettner and his team found that people consume less protein (especially animal protein) than the rest of the world.

Go vegetarian or vegan

David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School professor and longevity researcher, takes the argument against animal protein one step further, contending that the best way to live longer is by dropping meat entirely.

In an interview with The Knowledge Project Podcast, Sinclair said that high animal protein diets may help people look and feel great, but only in the short term.

"I'm convinced, and the data shows it from population studies, that a carnivorous diet is not a longevity producing diet in the long run," he said.

Several powerful figures in the tech industry don't eat meat either. OpenAI's Sam Altman is vegetarian while Twitter cofounder Biz Stone is vegan.

Breaking it down to the cellular level

Vinjamoori said that it can also be helpful to think about eating for longevity from the cellular level.

"I start with the question of what cellular processes I want to optimize, determine which compounds have been shown in research to optimize those processes, and then to find foods that have high concentrations of those compounds," he said.

Business Insider set out to figure exactly which foods would optimize those processes, and ultimately, help you live longer. Read more, below.

Buettner and his team found that beans are the "cornerstone" of most centenarian diets.

lentils
Beans are the "cornerstone" of centenarian diets, according to Dan Buettner of Blue Zones.The Washington Post /Contributor/Getty Images

That includes everything from fava beans to soybeans to lentils to black beans.

In the Blue Zone of Ikaria, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, people eat a diet of beans, along with whole grains, potatoes, olive oil, and fruits and vegetables.

Buettner and Sam Skemp, a former program manager at Blue Zones, wrote about the Ikarian diet in a paper published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine and found residents live an average of eight years longer than Americans.

The Ikarian diet is also similar to the Mediterranean diet, which was found to increase life expectancy by more than four years in certain regions of Italy, according to a study published in 2016.

Red onions are high in a compound called quercetin which has been shown in multiple studies to effectively reduce senescent cells.

Red Onions
Red onions are high in a compound called quercetin which can reduce senescent cells.Thomas Martinsen / Unsplash

Senescent cells, or "zombie cells" as they're sometimes called, are no longer usefully functioning but haven't yet been removed by the immune system, Vinjamoori said.

And instead of just hanging around, they also release inflammatory compounds that have been linked to a host of age-related conditions ranging from Alzheimer's disease and arthritis to cancer, according to researchers at the University of California San Francisco.

Capers are the richest natural source of quercetin.

capers
Capers are the richest natural source of quercetin.Renata Apanaviciene/Shutterstock

They provide more than 230 mg of the compound per 100 grams according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In brine, however, as they're commonly sold, capers provide a little more than 172 mg per 100 grams, according to the USDA.

Mushrooms have long been used in traditional medicine and have a host of longevity benefits.

Turkey Tail mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms, like Turkey Tail, are especially good for boosting immunity.Loop Images /Contributor/ Getty Images

Some like Turkey Tail and Reshi are particularly known for their immunity boosting properties. But mushrooms in general contain various compounds that can help boost cellular health and function — which is one of the keys to longevity.

Ergothioneine — an amino acid found mostly in mushrooms known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties — can help boost the health and functionality of the mitochondria, which are the cell's powerhouses, Dr. Neil Paulvin, an longevity and regenerative medicine doctor based in New York told BI by email. Mushrooms are also high in spermidine which is a compound that has anti-inflammatory effects and helps induce a cellular cleanup process called autophagy, Paulvin said. (It's also a key ingredient in Bryan Johnson's smoothies).

Added to that, mushrooms are a great source of B and D vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, selenium, copper, and potassium, but they also stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome, which improves your overall health, Paulvin said.

Turmeric has been proven as an effective anti-inflammatory ingredient.

turmeric
Curcumin, which reduces inflammation, can be found in turmeric, a spice commonly used in Indian cuisine.Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty Images

Turmeric contains curcumin which has been shown in numerous studies to reduce chronic inflammation, which is associated with age-related conditions including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and arthritis

 

Blueberries contain antioxidants that can help boost brain function.

blueberries
Blueberries get their color from an antioxidant called anthocyanin.EstudiosOMH/Shutterstock

Blueberries are believed to contain more antioxidants than 40 other common fruits and vegetables, according to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. One of the key antioxidants in blueberries is anthocyanin, which not only gives the fruit its color, but also helps preserve brain function.

"They're also high in soluble fiber, which helps to remove the bile in our gut and lower cholesterol, leading to a lower risk of heart disease," Paulvin explained by email.

Drinking two to three cups of coffee per day might be linked to living longer.

coffee
Drinking two to three cups of coffee per day might be linked to living longer.Iryna Veklich/Getty Images

At least, according to a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology last year. 

The researchers analyzed data from observing 450,000 people for a period of 12.5 years. They found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die early compared to non-coffee drinkers. Added to that, those who drank two to three cups of coffee of any type were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

In a blog post from 2018 titled "Productivity," OpenAI CEO Sam Altman wrote, "I have one big shot of espresso immediately when I wake up and one after lunch. I assume this is about 200mg total of caffeine per day."

 

Drinking green tea multiple times a day has been shown to reduce mortality.

Green tea being poured into a teal mug.
Green tea has an especially strong correlation with lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.Elena Fedorina/Getty Images

A 2022 study conducted with subjects across China, Japan, Korea and Singapore found that drinking green tea consumption lowered the risk of mortality from all causes except cancer. And the correlation between drinking at least five cups of green tea and preventing cardiovascular disease was particularly high across men and women. 

The study found similarly high correlations between drinking more than five cups of coffee a day and lower morality across men and women, but found no notable effects for black tea.

An earlier study from 2020 found that habitual tea drinkers had a life expectancy that was 1.2 years longer on average and could stave off heart disease for 1.4 years longer than average. Almost half the participants in the study preferred green tea to any other form of tea.

Pomegranates have a high natural concentration of a compound called Urolithin A.

Many pomegranates cut into sections
Pomegranates have a high concentration of Urolithin A, which can help remove dysfunctional mitochondria.runner of art/Getty Images

Urolithin A can help optimize the function of our mitochondria, which are essential to powering our cells with energy, but often break down with age.

And the scientific evidence around Urolithin A and pomegranates is promising.

A study published in 2017 found that pomegranate juice extended the lifespan of fruit flies, and a 2022 study found that older adults who were given 1000 mg of Urolithin A a day for four months had significant improvement in muscle endurance. 


Nuts are widely consumed across the Blue Zones.

bowl of asssorted nuts
Nuts are consumed across the Blue Zones and have been linked to lower mortality rates.Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images

In Ikaria and Sardinia they eat almonds, in Nicoya people eat pistachios, and the Adventist community in Loma Linda eats all types of nuts, according to a post by Buettner on Blue Zones.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013 that followed 120,000 people for a period of 30 years found that daily nut eaters were 20% less likely to have died during the study.

 

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