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December 3, 2021 — 10:02 AM
Every time we have the privilege of sitting down with longevity expert, National Geographic fellow, and founder of Blue Zones Dan Buettner, we learn something new. We’ve become pretty well versed in everything Blue Zones over the years (this is Buettner’s fourth time on the mindbodygreen podcast, after all), and yet—he continues to surprise us with his gems for living a longer and healthier life.
Case in point? These underrated longevity-supporting foods. At least one of the below is bound to make you raise a brow, but hear Buettner out: Each food is backed by research and beloved by Blue Zones around the world.
“Sourdough bread is leavened not just with yeast but lactobacillus, and in the process, most of the glutens are neutralized,” says Buettner. Research shows this process can actually assist digestion—that’s why some people with gluten sensitivity might actually fare well with a slice of sourdough, as the fermentation transforms the bread and causes the gluten to diminish substantially.
“And we don’t exactly know why, but when you eat a plant-based meal with sourdough bread, the glycemic index of that meal goes down,” he continues. “So the sugars in that meal are absorbed more slowly,” and your body is more likely to use those sugars for energy (rather than storing them up in your system). “In Sardinia, they are eating sourdough bread with just about every meal for their entire life—and I think it’s a true longevity food,” Buettner adds.
Milk thistle is a little more complicated on the longevity front. Says Buettner: “I cannot tell you why for sure, I can just tell you that it’s highly associated with making it to a hundred [years old].” We’ll wager it has something to do with milk thistle’s ability to protect the liver and assist with your body’s natural detoxification process.
Its active ingredient, silymarin, is also a flavonoid with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties—some research has shown it may even have anticarcinogenic effects.
Plenty of longevity experts are quick to sing the praises of coffee—the drink is rich in antioxidants, and regular consumption has been associated with an improved life span. But according to Buettner, how you brew is important: Specifically, he touts Ikaria coffee, or commonly referred to as “Turkish coffee.”
“It’s ground very finely and then boiled, and that process seems to bring out these oils, these polyphenols that are good for your heart,” he says. (Research backs up those cardiovascular benefits, too.) “Coffee is also common in Sardinia; it’s common among the Nicoya,” Buettner continues. “I just think it’s one of those beverages that you can enjoy with impunity, and it’s probably good for you as well.”
Of course, we’d be remiss not to include the beloved avocado. Buettner deems it a “magical” fruit full of good, healthy fats—like oleic acid, for example, a monounsaturated fat that’s A+ for heart and brain health. In fact, a small study published in the journal Nutrients found that daily consumption of oleic acid could help protect cognitive functioning in elderly adults.
Plus, avocado is a creamy, decadent addition to many versatile dishes. “I make a Sardinian minestrone with three beans—very rich in fiber, very savory and delicious,” Buettner says (and we have the recipe, if you’re curious). “I’ll slice an avocado on top, and it makes it taste more delicious.” Avocados can be blended into smoothies, added to rich desserts—the possibilities are endless.
Surprised? Us, too. But as Buettner declares: “The best longevity food is the food you’re going to eat.” And when it comes to convenience, bananas are one of the most accessible fruits out there (assuming you enjoy the flavor).
“They come in their own packaging,” jokes Buettner, and they’re full of soluble fiber. “I wouldn’t say it’s the only fruit you should eat, but I would say that having a bowl full of fruit sitting on your table is a much better pull than having a toaster on your counter or a bag of chips in a clip,” he says. “Convenience is one of the most important elements of eating healthy.”
Meaning, if you are going to keep food within arm’s reach, he recommends a bunch of bananas (or any other fruit you adore). That way, when you do feel peckish, you’re more likely to opt for whatever is closest to you—which, in this case, may be a nutrient-rich banana.
Longevity-supporting foods range far and wide, but we were especially curious about Buettner’s five favorite picks. Plus, they’re relatively simple and easy to incorporate into your lifestyle—and as Buettner notes, convenience is crucial.
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