According to the CIA's World Fact Book, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.6 years. In Monaco it is 89.6. What factors determine this discrepency? How can people alter their behaviors to live longer?
A growing body of evidence suggests that diet is one of the most important contributors to sustained health and longevity.
Diet is typically associated with chronic diseases that affect life expectancy with age such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. What you eat impacts your risk level for all of these diseases.
So how can you conform your eating habits to a diet that leads to a longer life?
The following foods have been proven to lower risk for diet-related diseases and provide the body with nutrients essential to overall health.
Here's what's on the menu for a long, healthy life:
1. Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
Packed with fiber and nutrients, fruits and vegetables help maintain a healthy body weight and protect against cardiovascular disease. Produce provides essential antioxidants and anti-aging phytonutrients that bolster overall health with few calories.
Research shows that people with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables have strong bones, high levels of antioxidants in the bloodstream, and prime digestive health. Each of these factors contributes to the age-defying benefits of produce consumption.
Nuts provide a great source of cholesterol-free protein and unsaturated fat that help protect against heart disease. They provide the nutrients that fatty meats do, but without the artery-clogging cholesterol.
Nuts are high in Vitamin E, which has been shown to reduce risk of stroke in women.
3. Beans: The More the Merrier
Beans are widely considered a "superfood" -- a food that provides a whole host of important health benefits.
They are rich in complex carbohydrates like whole grains, but also provide the same vitamins and minerals that many vegetables do. Beans are high in protein but low in fat, providing a cholesterol-free alternative to many saturated fatty foods.
In fact, beans actually lower cholesterol!
4. Whole Grains
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains pack a great deal of nutrition into low-calorie foods.
Whole grains like quinoa, barley, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, and wild rice are rich in disease-fighting compounds and retain more natural nutrients than refined varieties.
5. Avoid Salty Foods
Research shows that a diet high in sodium is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
New research indicates there may be a link between high-salt diets and a decline in brain function with age, suggesting low-salt diets are key in the prevention of cognitive decline.
According to the American Heart Association, fish is a good source of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, which improve heart health, prevent plaque within the arteries, and lower blood pressure.
Low in saturated fat, fish is a great protein alternative to many types of fatty meats.
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is considered a healthy dietary fat as opposed to saturated or trans fats.
These monounsaturated fats are known to reduce risk of heart disease and lower total cholesterol. Olive oil is thus a worthy substitute for high-fat butter and margarine products. However, even healthy fats are high in calories, so consume olive oil in moderation.
8. Skip the Saturated Fat
Saturated fats increase the levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream, which increases risk of heart disease and stroke per the American Heart Association.
It is important to find substitutes for foods high in saturated fat in order to limit cholesterol and prevent associated health risks.
9. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens such as kale (another "superfood"), spinach, and collard are rich in countless vitamins and minerals essential to overall health and longevity.
They are packed with antioxidants that lower cholesterol and have been shown to help protect the body against heart disease and some cancers.
10. Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium and Vitamin-D, which increases bone and muscle strength and improves the immune system.
Healthy bones and muscles support the body and allow higher levels of activity as you age.