Cuisine and Longevity: How to Eat for a Longer Life

Cuisine and Longevity

Choose plant-based, unprocessed foods inspired by the cuisines of the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Asia to increase life expectancy.

Longevity, or life expectancy, is affected by many complex factors ranging from nationality and lifestyle to family medical history. However, countless studies have shown that diet is a key contributor. These same studies also explore which diets from around the world are healthiest, giving us the nutrients we need to reduce the risk of illness and promote strong minds and bodies even into old age. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.

Mediterranean diet: a winning choice

Although the 21 countries that border the Mediterranean each have their own unique culinary customs, they have a common foundation. Dishes are typically simple, and inspired by seasonal ingredients. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains take centre stage, while fish is the primary source of protein and olive oil replaces the saturated fats otherwise used in Western cooking. Poultry, eggs and dairy are consumed in moderation, while red meat and sugar are infrequent treats.

This way of eating has become known as the Mediterranean diet, and for the past five years it has won first place in U.S. News’ expert-approved ranking of the world’s healthiest cuisines. Multiple studies have linked the diet to a reduced risk of chronic diseases and ailments including diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, cancer, dementia and memory loss. And in 2020, research published in the journal Gut showed that elderly people who transitioned to a Mediterranean diet showed improved brain function and slowed signs of frailty after just one year.

Mediterranean dining is more than a list of ingredients. It’s also a way of life that has a lot in common with the slow food movement. Namely, it encourages people to eat consciously for the sheer enjoyment of it, over extended meals with family and friends. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why the Mediterranean diet is also associated with reduced levels of depression, stress and anxiety – all conditions that can seriously affect our health and longevity.

Eating for longevity around the world

Several other cuisines have proven links to longevity, in particular, Asian and Nordic diets – probably because they are founded on the same basic principles as the Mediterranean diet. They also focus on seasonal fruit, vegetables, legumes and seafood, while other meat is used primarily as a garnish and there is very little saturated fat or starch. A 2022 study showed that switching from a Western diet to ones like these at the age of 20 could increase life expectancy by more than a decade, while doing so at 60 could result in approximately eight more years of life.

The actual ingredients differ, of course. In Scandinavian countries, canola oil is used in place of olive oil, and fish and vegetables are often fermented. In Asia, carbohydrates come from soy beans and lentils rather than pasta, while fruits like yuzu and mangosteen replace pomegranates and avocados. Japan is particularly synonymous with long life expectancy, with Okinawa listed as one of the world’s top five Blue Zones (areas where people consistently live to more than 100). Mediterranean Blue Zones include Ikaria in Greece and Sardinia in Italy.

(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes.