Nutrition for Longevity
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Written by Longevity and Performance Coach: Manoli Lagos
Nutrition has become one of the most polarizing topics in health. If you’re not a vegan or carnivore, you might feel stuck in the middle or just lost in the sea of fad diets, outdated science and misinformation. There’s a lot of B.S. out there: my goal is to make it easy for anyone reading this article to understand fact vs. fad and have the knowledge to choose the “diet” that’s right for you, your goals and genetics. Everything in this article is tied to longevity, since that’s what we all want, to live a long, healthy, and boundless life.
When it comes to longevity, there are three simple principles to keep in mind:
1. Stick to real, whole foods
2. Limit inflammatory foods & refined sugar
3. Focus on quality
Real, Whole Foods
When it comes to longevity, we should start by examining the best of the best…the Blue Zones. These five longevity hotspots are in: Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. They are the five places on earth where there is the highest population of centenarians (people living over 100 years old). When studying these groups of people, we’ve learned a few things when it comes to nutrition:
1. They eat a balanced diet of meat, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts/seeds, spices etc.
2. They avoid processed foods (anything that comes in a package and isn’t in its natural form)
3. They treat meat as a condiment, think of it as a side dish, not the main show
So when it comes to eating for longevity, we know that you don’t need to go to the extremes of being a carnivore or a vegan to promote long-lasting health. It’s all about eating real foods and having balance. Nothing against these diets, I've tried them myself and believe that they have their place and can be “healthy” if done properly and with professional guidance. If you’re still having trouble grasping what a real, whole food is, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Was this once a living thing?
2. Would my grandmother recognize this food?
The answer should be yes to both!
Now that we’ve come to the understanding that having a balanced diet based on whole foods is key, let’s talk about how the science behind food has changed. Below, you’ll see the food pyramid of the 90’s, the one we all saw in school classrooms and doctors’ offices.
Unfortunately, this approach didn’t get us too far. With 40% of Americans having cancer, 60% being overweight or obese, and 50% of the population being diabetic, there are some obvious flaws in this approach.
The new paradigm below is the pyramid that we now associate with longevity. Look closely and you’ll spot the differences.
There are two main differences in these pyramids. First is the base: in the old pyramid, the majority of our calories came from simple carbs like bread, pasta and rice. In the new pyramid, we see that the majority of our calories should come from complex carbs like vegetables. Complex carbs provide a slower and cleaner burn, which enables your body to balance blood sugar levels much better than simple carbs, which in excess will give way to energy crashes and less control over cravings.
The second major difference in the new approach is the inclusion of healthy fats. Old science tells us that fats are bad, they make you fat and they lead to high cholesterol and heart disease. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Fats are essential for life: our brain itself is 60% fat and 40% water. New science tells us that the real main culprit of heart disease is excess sugar, not healthy fats. In fact, there was a groundbreaking study done from The American College of Cardiology in August of 2020 on over ~200k participants, testing a high-fat diet on heart health. The conclusion was that healthy fats, like the ones from eggs, red meat and chocolate have no negative impact on cardiovascular health and should even be included as a part of a healthy diet.
A lot of us are living in the past when it comes to nutrition. There are hundreds of studies like the one above, proving the old science wrong; so, do some digging yourself and you’ll learn that dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs makes up less than 10% of the total cholesterol in our bodies, the rest is produced internally. Cholesterol is actually the key building block for hormones like testosterone, so for anyone trying to put on muscle and improve athletic performance, it would be foolish to limit such an essential nutrient. Cholesterol being villainized as a cancer-causing nutrient is just one of the many examples of how old science has wrongly dictated the way we think about food.
Limit Inflammatory Foods & Refined Sugar
So, let’s get into the nutrition part of things. We know through science that some foods promote inflammation in the body. What is inflammation? It can show up as bloating, headaches, stomach cramps, knee pain, anxiety, brain fog, mood disorders, clogged sinuses and SO much more. Science tells us that inflammation is at the root cause of ALL DISEASE, so we really want to make an effort to avoid these foods for our long-term health. The following foods have been proven to cause inflammation in the body and are at the root cause of nearly all illnesses known to man and here’s why:
1. Gluten- Is a foreign protein that our body doesn't know how to process. Causes inflammation for everyone.
2. Dairy- 60% of people have an intolerance, causes skin issues, digestive problems & overall inflammation. Grass-fed dairy can be tolerated much better than traditional dairy.
3. Grains- Heavily processed & GMO’d in the US, sprayed with Glyphosate which we know causes cancer. Avoid US-grown grains.
4. Soy- Impacts thyroid function & imbalances hormones, also highly GMO’d. Avoid US soy products.
5. Refined sugar (man-made sugar)- Leads to weight gain, energy crashes, and cravings. Replace with natural sugars below.
When I work with clients one on one, I create custom meal plans to help them find healthy swaps to these inflammatory foods. There is a healthy swap to ALL of these. In doing so, there’s no sacrifice or restrictions and they upgrade their food choices while still enjoying themselves.
No conversation about nutrition would be complete without the discussion of sourcing and quality. If you just stick to the first two principles we discussed today, eating whole foods and limiting the inflammatory ones, you will undoubtedly be in the top 5% of people in terms of health. If you want to go the extra mile and have the means for it, then you’ll want to focus on quality. I was once told by a doctor, “you are what you eat ATE,” and it’s stuck with me to this day. Meaning, we are not only the bi-product of what we are eating, but we are the bi-product of what that animal or plant ate before it makes it to our plate. In other words, if you are eating a cow that was fed man-made corn, pumped with antibiotics and hormones to fatten it up, you are ingesting all of those things into your body as well. High-quality produce is more expensive, and it’s an investment….an investment in your health and your future. The way I look at it is, I would rather pay 10-15% more now for my groceries than paying tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills later down the road from not eating clean foods.
So why is quality important?
1. Animals and plants that are fed their natural diets are much more nutritious
2. Consuming animals that have been fed synthetic foods, antibiotics and hormones can disrupt your hormone balance and cause major health issues
3. Pesticides and hormones can cause weight gain
4. Quality produce tastes better
5. You’ll feel better in every way once you eat quality foods
Here’s what you should be buying for longevity:
1. Buy organic, grass-fed and grass-finished meats vs. grain-fed
2. Buy wild-caught seafood vs. farm-raised
3. Buy organic produce, reference the dirty dozen and clean fifteen to know which to prioritize
4. Look for pasture-raised eggs- Vital Farms is my favorite commercial brand
If you don’t know where your meat is coming from, oftentimes you can tell what the animal was fed by looking at the color of the meat. If an animal was grass-fed, the color of the meat will look purple-ish with yellow fat vs. bright red and white if it’s grain-fed. For fish like salmon and tuna, go for brighter colors, as farm-raised fish usually have meat that is dull in color.
If the meat you buy doesn’t specify it’s grass-fed or organic or uses the label ‘all-natural,’ which means nothing, then you should ALWAYS assume it’s not organic and grass-fed. I would recommend buying your meats in bulk to save money, using companies like Butcher Box to get discounts on quality produce.
When it comes to eating for longevity, start with these three principles:
1. Stick to real, whole foods
2. Limit inflammatory foods & refined sugar
3. Focus on quality
You’ll notice changes in how you feel and perform in your daily life in just a few days. When it comes to nutrition, everyone is different and unique and that’s how we approach all of our clients, whether it’s an athlete or a working professional; everything we do at The Living Fuel is customized to the individual. If you are interested in learning more or scheduling a free session, email us or schedule through our website. Outside of nutrition, we work with people on things like:
1. Stress management
2. Sleep optimization
4. Breathwork & Meditation
5. Movement and fat loss
6. Relationship coaching