By Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD for YouBeauty
Over the past century, average life expectancy has increased radically in the United States. With this increase, it has become more common for people to live to extremely old ages, even up to 100 years.
Many characteristics play into a person's life expectancy. However, diet seems to play a larger role than others in terms of increased longevity and decreased disability. If length of life has grown to be a measure of health, we might be able to learn a thing or two from the people who have been around the longest. The members of the "100 club" have nutrition secrets that could increase your quality and quantity of life.
Here are a few things you can do today:
1. Control Your Portions
Today's centenarians have been through many life events -- from the Great Depression to the first landing on the moon -- so you can bet they are quite adaptable. But how do portions today measure up to portions in 1960? It is safe to say individuals who once saw normal portions may be flabbergasted at today's mammoth-size meals. To be a centenarian, try eating like one: Smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day will keep blood sugar levels from going haywire. The key is to engage in mindful eating and only eat until you are three-quarters full. Heaping portions can distort your perception of your appetite versus actual hunger and lead to consuming unnecessary calories.
2. Eat Your Plants
While studying centenarians in mountain villages on the island of Sicily, researchers at the University of Palermo, Italy, found these individuals closely followed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat, refined carbohydrates and sweets. Plants are the secret here -- they are our best sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Plant-based diets have been shown time and time again to slow the effects of aging by fighting free radicals and preventing cell damage. To get the best bang for your buck, grab green, leafy vegetables and other superfoods such as blueberries, nuts, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
3. Consume Breakfast Regularly
Known as the "most important meal of the day," it's no surprise that eating breakfast is a healthy lifestyle choice. All meals are important, but studies show that metabolism is impacted by the body's circadian rhythm (the biological process that the body follows over a 24-hour cycle), so the time of day we eat can have a big impact on the way our bodies process food. The results of regular breakfast include considerably lower levels of insulin, glucose and triglycerides throughout the day, and therefore, a lower risk of chronic disease including leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
4. Keep Alcohol Use To A Minimum
A study published in the October 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research indicated that individuals who drink heavily and smoke may show early aging of the brain. This was in part due to decreases in memory, the ability to think quickly and efficiently and problem-solving skills, compared to individuals who abstained from smoking and drinking. In addition, there is much evidence to show that healthy behaviors follow a cumulative pattern. That is, the greater number of healthy behaviors, the greater benefit. Engaging in a combination of healthy activities, such as exercising, eating well and limiting alcohol, can significantly increase the chances for a person to stay healthy as they age.
Successful aging is typically defined as maintaining the ability to function well with good mobility, cognitive skills and mental health without chronic diseases. What you eat is only one -- albeit an important -- factor that can affect your longevity. So remember to also keep your mind and body active throughout your life.
Hadley Hickner contributed to this column.