It can be hard to take advice on eating healthy to live longer when you hear about some incredible people who didn’t exactly follow the conventional wisdom: In Texas, a 104-year old woman attributed her long life to drinking three cans of Dr. Pepper daily. More than one centenarian has boasted of their daily bacon, often with eggs and sometimes grits. Chocolate is also popular with those who have lived to 100 and beyond. A 110-year old New Jersey woman salutes the “Champagne of Beers” aka Miller High Life since she had three bottles a day, plus a scotch. A 114-year old Puerto Rican man thought his long life might have something to do with eating a traditional meal of cornmeal and codfish daily. One 101-year old man had advice for others who want to hit the triple digits: eat ice cream, or anything you want. Surely genetics has a significant role in the well-being of these people who have defied the conventional wisdom on eating well for a long and healthy life! So, what should the rest of us mere mortals do? Perhaps washing the day’s bacon down with Dr. Pepper and scotch is a bit bold.


The Japanese seem to have the secret to eating to live longer as they have the greatest proportion of centenarians in the world. Researchers have studied these happy folks to figure out what exactly contributes to their longevity. For starters, they eat three servings of fish per week and more tofu and kombu seaweed than people in other parts of the world. The local vegetables—such as purple sweet potatoes—are rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin E and lycopene, all of which can strengthen the immune system. Turmeric is a spice frequently used in Japanese dishes and is believed to have anti-inflammatory qualities. Tofu is a significant part of the diet here and a reduced risk of heart disease is attributed to soy products. There is also a philosophy to eat only until someone feels 80% full.


The Mediterranean diet shows up again and again in research on diets that can be part of a long and healthy life. In Italy, researchers found that centenarians ate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, with less emphasis on red meat and sweets. Any discussion of the Mediterranean diet will point out the low glycemic index, which is another way of saying the blood sugar levels remain constant instead of spiking. High glycemic index diets have been linked to higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Dairy products tend to come from sheep and goats, not cows, so they get plenty of calcium and protein. Lots of olive oil is also an important part of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, along with oleic acid, believed to reduce inflammation in the body.


In case you’re not planning to relocate or spend a lot of time and money in the specialty food aisle of your local market, there are a few general tips for eating a diet that has the potential to ward off disease and therefore prolong lifespan:
  1. More plants, less meat
  2. More fish
  3. Drink water, less dairy (milk)
  4. Eat a little less overall
  5. Avoid processed foods
Any diet should be consumed in moderation, experts agree. Socializing while eating can also be good for your health and appears to be an important of the lives of Japanese centenarians and others. While you can give the Dr. Pepper and bacon diet a try, it might be too risky!