Interested in 16 small diet changes for a longer life? From savory breakfasts to sardines, Dr Mark Hyman’s life-lengthening diet tweaks can make all the difference.

When you picture yourself in old age, you may assume you’ll be frail, have limited mobility and suffering from an illness, whether that’s dementia, heart disease or osteoporosis.

But the longevity guru Dr Mark Hyman, 64, who helped to popularize functional medicine (the idea that food should be the first line of therapy) and overhauled the Bill and Hillary Clintons’ diets, urges people to think again.

His advice is taken as gospel by his 3 million social media followers and the thousands he has helped to better health since the publication of his 2013 book The Daniel Plan, which interestingly was co-authored with Christian pastor Rick Warren, which encouraged readers to both lose weight and focus on their faith.

“Most of what we see as ageing is actually abnormal,” Dr Hyman says.

“The decline that happens is modifiable and we can reverse our biological age by how we eat, exercise and manage stress, even as we get chronologically older.

“Food is the most important lever we have to pull on this and people need to understand that what they eat is transforming everything about their health at every moment.”

Diet Changes for Longer Life

Here are 16 diet changes for longer life. Incorporate as many as possible.

1. Cut out sugar and starch

The principles behind eating healthier to increase our health span (the number of years we live disease-free) as well as our lifespan are “not that complicated”, says Dr Hyman.

“It’s removing the things we know are harmful and adding in the foods that are protective. The things we know drive accelerated ageing are predominantly [refined] starch [a type of carbohydrate found in white bread, white rice and pastries] and sugar,” he says.

These ingredients fuel insulin resistance and inflammation throughout the body, he warns.

2. Avoid foods made in factories

“Ultra-processed food is generally made in factories with strange ingredients with names you can’t pronounce that have been linked to increased mortality,” he says.

For every 10 per cent of your diet that is ultra-processed, your risk of an early death increases by 14 per cent, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2019.

This is troubling, as around 60 per cent of our diet in the UK and US is ultra-processed, Dr Hyman notes.

“When you’re going to buy something to eat, ask yourself: ‘Did God make this or did man make this?’ It’s really pretty simple.”

3. Eat more anti-inflammatory fruit and vegetables

“We need large amounts of naturally-occurring phytochemicals. These have longevity benefits and are found in plant foods,” Dr Hyman says.

The compounds are found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, herbs and wholegrains.

“These regulate all the pathways that have to do with longevity, inflammation, oxidative stress [which can damage tissue and organs], mitochondrial function [which regulates energy], DNA repair and blood sugar. So these phytochemicals are not really optional.”

4. Eat one gram of protein for every pound you weigh daily

As we age, our muscle mass declines by around three to five per cent per decade. It’s a natural part of the ageing process called sarcopenia.

To counteract this, Dr Hyman recommends upping your protein intake, matching your weight in pounds to protein intake in grams. For example, someone who weighs 120 lbs needs around 120g per day.

This is more than current UK recommendations of 0.75g of protein per kg per day. Under this method, a person who weighs 120 lbs would only eat 40g per day.

A skinless chicken breast (150g) contains around 36g of protein, while a medium egg contains 6g.

5. Choose grass-fed or free-range meat

When it comes to eating meat, choose grass-fed or free-range, he says.

Plant proteins are also a good option but choose non-genetically modified tofu and tempeh (a meat alternative made from fermented soybeans) as these contain a higher concentration of protein and less calories and starch, according to Dr Hyman.

6. Make a savory breakfast

“Fish and eggs are great for breakfast,” says Dr Hyman.

It is a protein-rich option that avoids starting the day with sugary breakfast cereals, pastries or yoghurt, and helps build muscle, he says.

“If you want yoghurt for breakfast instead, I recommend sheep or goat’s yoghurt. Add things that increase protein content, for example walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds.”

The average person should aim to consume 30g of protein with breakfast, he says.

Protein shakes can help with this, especially as people get older and their protein requirements increase, as shakes are easily absorbed and used to build muscle, he says.

“I like goat whey protein powder because it’s more pasteurized and regenerative than cow, so it’s what I recommend,” he adds.

7. Never eat “naked carbs”

This term refers to eating carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice and fruit, without having fiber, protein or fat alongside them.

“If you’re eating berries and have them with yoghurt and nuts, you’re reducing this spike in blood sugar,” Dr Hyman says. Or you can mix fruit with protein shakes.

8. Don’t snack

“I don’t really think that most people should be snacking. I think it’s a modern invention,” Dr Hyman says.

“If people eat the right food, they’re not hungry, their appetite is regulated well and they don’t have to snack. When you eat a lot of starch and sugar, you end up having pretty significant cravings and hunger.”

People who start their day with a muffin or bagel are left with hunger pangs, struggle to manage their appetite and feel like they need to snack, he says.

“But if you’re doing the right thing with your diet, you really won’t need to snack,” he adds.

If you want the occasional biscuit or chocolate bar, eat it alongside protein and fat to prevent dramatic blood sugar spikes, he recommends.

9. Fast for at least 12 hours overnight

“Everybody should be doing at least a 12 hour overnight fast,” he says.

This would mean eating, for example, eating dinner at 7pm and then not eating again until after 7am the next morning. Studies suggest that this approach can help with weight loss, boost gut health, reduce inflammation and improve blood sugar.

10. Don’t drink liquid calories

When it comes to liquids, stick to water, coffee and tea, Dr Hyman recommends.

“One of the main things that harms us is rapidly-absorbed liquid sugar calories, from juice or from sodas or energy drinks,” he says. “It really is the biggest driver of insulin resistance and prediabetes.”

Insulin resistance occurs when insulin (a hormone released by the pancreas to bring down blood sugar levels) isn’t working properly, so the organ releases increasing amounts of insulin. This can eventually tire the pancreas out. It can lead to prediabetes, which is when a person’s blood sugar is too high and they’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

11. Avoid alcohol – even red wine

Some studies have suggested that, in moderation, wine may benefit our health.

“The more data we’ve gotten, it’s become clear that this isn’t true and that there’s really no safe limit of alcohol – it’s a recreational drug,” Dr Hyman says.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t have it occasionally but it shouldn’t be a staple, as it increases our risk of cancer. People should be conscious that it’s not a health food.”

12. Eat cruciferous vegetables every day

“Every day, I try to eat at least a couple of cups of cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, collard greens, kale, Brussel sprouts,” Dr Hyman says.

Studies have linked these foods to a healthier heart, cholesterol levels and blood sugar control.

13. Eat more seeds and sardines

“A lot of evidence shows that nuts and seeds (especially flax and chia) help with conditions such as heart disease and cancer, so they are a key part of the longevity diet,” he says.

Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as small fish like sardines, mackerel, herring and anchovies, also have protective effects, he says. Some omega-3s are thought to reduce a type of fat in the blood called triglycerides, improve circulation and prevent blood clots.

14. Choose your oils wisely

“I mostly have extra virgin olive oil but, for high-temperature cooking, I use avocado oil,” Dr Hyman says. Studies suggest that extra virgin olive oil protects the heart and brain, while studies in animals suggest that avocado oil reduces cholesterol levels.

“I also sometimes have ghee, which can be very good for high-temperature cooking, and grass-fed butter.”

15. Avoid starting your meal with bread and alcohol

“Bread and alcohol at the beginning [of a meal] is the worst thing you can do,” Dr Hyman says.

This combination spikes our blood sugar levels and “the single thing we know is that insulin resistance is the biggest driver of ageing,” he adds.

16. Stick to protein and vegetables when dining out

It can be challenging to eat healthily at restaurants, so a good rule of thumb is to stick to ordering protein and two to three servings of vegetables, Dr Hyman says.

“Eat your fiber and protein first and add any starch towards the end of the meal,” he adds.

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