The Longevity Diet

Research funded by the National Institutes of Health points to what many are calling the longevity diet.

Analyzing the eating patterns of 2,582 Americans ages 70 to 79 over a period of 10 years, scientists found that a predominantly Pritikin diet (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat/nonfat dairy, poultry, and fish) was the clear winner when it came to increased longevity and better quality of life.


A fatty diet was linked with a 40% higher risk of death.

The researchers, led by Dr. Amy Anderson of the University of Maryland and funded by the National Institutes of Health, grouped the participants into six different eating patterns based on their predominant food choices:

  1. Healthy foods – higher intake of fruits, vegetables, low-fat and nonfat dairy, poultry, and fish, and lower intake of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat. (374 participants)
  2. High-fat dairy products – higher intake of cheese, ice cream, whole milk and whole yogurt, and lower intake of pasta, rice, poultry, and low-fat/nonfat dairy. (332)
  3. Meats, fried foods, and alcohol. (693)
  4. Breakfast cereal. (386)
  5. Refined grains. (458)
  6. Sweets and desserts. (339)

The key results, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, were the following:

  • The “High-fat dairy” group had a 40% higher risk of mortality compared to the “Healthy foods” group.
  • The “Sweets and desserts” group (characterized by foods like doughnuts, cakes, and cookies) had a 37% higher risk of dying compared to the “Healthy foods” group.
  • The three groups with the worst longevity – the “High-fat dairy,” “Sweets and desserts,” and “Meats, fried foods, and alcohol” – had something in common. They were all high in saturated fats and trans fats.
  • The people in the “Healthy foods” group not only lived longer, they also enjoyed a better quality of life, and for a longer period of time, compared to all the other groups.

Longevity diet – Very doable

There are those who will pooh-pooh this study, arguing that in the real world few will follow a healthy eating pattern for an extended period of time.

Not so, Dr. Anderson counters, pointing out that a substantial percentage of the people in the “Healthy foods” group liked their eating plan and longevity diet, and preferred it to junk food and other unhealthy choices, and they did so for years and years. Therefore, “such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population.”

Soaring health care costs

So let’s get on board. By the year 2030, our senior population in the U.S. is projected to double, which could mean skyrocketing numbers of bypass surgeries, angioplasties, strokes (and consequent nursing home needs), heart attacks, and other lifestyle-related woes. There’s no question that the burden, both personally and to our health care system, could be crushing.

But it doesn’t have to be. What we put on our plate, and how much we move each day, can profoundly improve our health, our survival, and our deficit.

And for those of us already on the Pritikin bandwagon, we know that the right foods and plenty of exercise can keep life fun. What a benefit!  More than 30 years ago, Nathan Pritikin said it so well: “You might be interested in the Pritikin Program if you’d like to go swimming with your great-grandchildren, if you’d like to keep a job you like, if you want to grow old, not tired of existence, but finding pleasure every day in living, loving, working, and playing.”

All the above and a solvent health care system? Yes!

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