The diet that could add 10 years to your life

There are so many “anti-aging” products out there. There are wrinkle-busting serums, vitamin supplements and meal replacements, and much more, all promising to extend your youth. But what if there was a research-backed way to truly add healthy, fulfilling years to your life?  

Turns out, there is. According to a 2022 study in PLOS Medicine, there are certain aspects of our diet that have a huge impact on lifespan. The best part: The changes may not be that hard to make.  

For the study, researchers set out to see what food groups had the most impact on health and longevity. They found that an optimal diet has more legumes, whole grains, fish and produce. It also includes a handful of nuts each day. What does it have less of? Red meat and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains.   

Researchers then compared the optimal diet to the traditional American diet. The latter tends to be high in sodium, added sugar and saturated fat. And it's typically low in plant foods, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.   

The result: If people changed to this optimal diet starting in young adulthood, it would add an estimated 10.7 years to women’s lives and 13 years to men’s lives. But you don’t need a time machine to benefit. According to the study, even making these dietary changes at age 60 added about 8 years to a person’s lifespan. And at age 80, it still tacked on 3 years. 

How does a healthy, “optimal” diet increase longevity?

The typical American diet is a major contributor to chronic disease, says Romina Cervigni, PhD, a nutrition biologist at the Valter Longo Foundation in Milan, Italy.   

These chronic conditions include cardiovascular disease, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes. And those are 3 of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The good news is that you don’t have to do a total diet overhaul to get these benefits. Here’s how to make life-extending food choices that are delicious and sustainable over the long term.   

How to optimize your diet

The study’s optimal diet is a lot like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. But all 3 are more like healthy eating patterns than “diets.” (You won’t find any 30-day crash diets around here.) Each leans heavily on plant-based foods.  

Here are the 3 plant foods that can help provide the biggest gains in life expectancy, according to the PLOS Medicine study.


Legumes are the fruits or seeds of certain plants in the legume family. Examples are: 

  • Peas

  • Edamame

  • Chickpeas

  • Beans (kidney beans, black beans, pinto, etc.)

  • Peanuts

  • Lentils 

These picks are high in protein, fiber and nutrients such as iron and zinc. They also contain antioxidants, says Kristin Kirkpatrick. She’s a registered dietitian and consultant for the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Lifestyle and Integrative Medicine. These chemicals protect against cell damage and disease, and they even fight aging.   

Because legumes are packed with fiber, they can also help with digestion. (Goodbye, constipation.) They may even help protect against digestive cancers, such as stomach cancer or colon cancer. 

How to eat more of them: Legumes may be great additions to soups, stews, and casseroles. They hold up well during long cooking times, and they add a meaty, filling quality to any dish. You can puree beans to make healthier dips and spreads. You can sprinkle black beans on top of a salad. Or roast chickpeas for a salty, crunchy snack that’s sure to give potato chips a run for their money. 


Nuts and seeds (and their butters) are packed with so many nutrients. They contain protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Some nuts, such as walnuts, are also high in omega-3 fatty acid — a healthy fat that protects the heart by lowering inflammation. Nuts can also help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your blood sugar in check, Cervigni says.  

How to eat more of them: Nuts can be easily added to just about any dish or eaten solo as a snack. Sliced almonds are terrific in oatmeal or mixed into yogurt. And a sprinkle of walnuts or pecans adds a tasty crunch to salads or savory rice dishes.  

One of the easiest ways to work them in: Make a swap. Try replacing a not-so-healthy snack (we’re looking at you, candy bars) with a nut you like, says Kirkpatrick. It will help you feel fuller and more satisfied. Nuts are high in calories, so just be mindful of your portion size. Aim for 1 ounce, or about ¼ cup, per serving.

UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members with a healthy food, OTC products and utility bills credit can download the UnitedHealthcare® app to view credit balance, use product scanner and more.

How to get more help with everyday needs

Whole grains

Whole grains are the seeds of grasses that are cultivated for food. “Whole” refers to the fact that they contain all 3 parts of the seed — bran, germ and endosperm. Grains that are whole are more nutritious than refined ones because they contain more vitamins and fiber. Examples of whole grains include: 

  • Whole wheat bread, pasta or crackers 
  • Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut) 
  • Brown rice 
  • Popcorn  
  • Quinoa
  • Barley 

As with nuts, eating whole grains may help you stay fuller longer. According to the American Heart Association, they can also improve your cholesterol and lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

How to eat more of them: When shopping for bread or similar foods, opt for whole grain picks over white. How can you tell? The package will say “100% whole grain” on it. Or it will have whole grains (such as whole wheat flour) as one of the first ingredients on the ingredients list. 

Other healthy swaps include choosing brown rice instead of white, bran flakes instead of sweetened corn flakes, and whole grain pasta over regular pasta. You can also add barley to soups, eat a side of quinoa with dinner, and bread lean chicken with whole grain breadcrumbs. 

The foods you should avoid to help you live longer

So many fad diets out there focus on what you can’t eat. To be clear: This isn’t an elimination diet. It’s all about finding balance. 

The PLOS Medicine study found 3 food groups that you should consume less of to live longer. These are sugar-sweetened drinks, refined grains, and red and processed meats. 

Lucky for us, there’s often an easy healthier swap. Instead of sugar-laden sodas, you can try seltzers or no-sugar-added teas. Adding fruit to water can also be refreshing and delicious. And, as we talked about above, you can choose whole grain options rather than refined ones.  

If red or processed meats are a staple of your diet, it can be a bit trickier. So start small. See if you can eliminate red meat or processed meat from 1 meal per day. Or reduce your portion size little by little. You can also try some of these healthy swaps: 

  • Swap in ground turkey for ground beef 
  • Have a tuna sandwich, rather than one with cold cuts 
  • Roast turkey, chicken or salmon, rather than beef, lamb or ham 
  • Grill chicken kebobs instead of hot dogs or sausages

These changes may help you eat less saturated fat — a type that has been found to raise cholesterol and heart disease risk. And it will help reduce your risk of cancer. The World Health Organization considers processed meat to be a Group 1 carcinogen. That means there is enough evidence to show that it causes colon cancer in humans. 

That doesn’t mean you have to completely banish bacon — just go easy. After all, fewer slices of bacon and more handfuls of nuts could add years to your life. 

Get more help with your everyday needs. Already a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage member with a credit for covered groceries, OTC products and utility bills? The credit is loaded to the UnitedHealthcare UCard®. Sign in to your plan website to check the balance and start shopping.

Already a UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage member?

Get more help with everyday needs. Have a credit to buy covered groceries, OTC products and pay utility bills? Learn how to shop in-store or online.