The Quest for Longevity

And What Food Has to Do With It

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen once memorably cracked. “I want to achieve it through not dying.” On the other hand, as the late Anglo-American author Susan Ertz once pointed out (sounding a bit like Woody Allen, come to think of it), “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” Physical (as opposed to metaphorical) immortality, of course, is beyond our grasp — at least so far. What seems more achievable is increased longevity; we probably can’t live forever, but, hey, six or eight Christmas mornings or summer solstice afternoons beyond the usual would be nothing to sneeze at.

Many of the factors limiting our life spans are beyond our control: We are felled by accidents, struck down by mysterious diseases, undone by inherited conditions and genetic weaknesses. (“If you want to live a good long life,” a friend of mine used to say, “choose your parents carefully.”) If, however, we are what we eat (as we’re often told), it seems fairly obvious that food (and its inevitable corollary, drink) has something to do with how long we last.

What effects, then — good or bad — does food have on our chances to see 85 or 95 or more — and to see advanced age not just breathing but actually in decent health? How have others kept things going? What works, or at least might help? Is immortality really off the table? These are some of the questions The Daily Meal editorial staff considers in various ways in this, our fourth special section — which are our periodic collections of stories and slideshows on important topics. Previous installments have dealt with the controversial issue of GMOs, the various ways in which food can harm as well as nourish us (“Is Our Food Killing Us?”), and water (“The Most Important Thing in the World”).

We approach the present subject in ways both serious and slightly less so, both direct and peripheral. What do the long-lived actually consume, to begin with? For some answers, see Susan Houriet on What 12 Celebrities Age 90 or More Love to Eat; Holly Van Hare on What We Can Learn From the ‘Blue Zones’; Dan Myers on What the World’s Oldest People Eat (or Ate); and — why not? —The World’s Oldest Animals and What They Eat as seen by Pauline Lacsamana. For another way of looking at it, Jeremy Rose’s interactive timeline tracks the correlation between what humans have eaten and how long they have survived since Paleolithic times in 2 Million Years of Lifespan and Diet. Want more detail? The positive effects of specific dietary habits are revealed in 25 Foods and Drinks That (Might) Help You Live Longer by Carolyn Menyes and Diet and Dementia: This Regimen Might Work by Bianca Bahamondes. Shannon Darnall, on the other hand, asks if we can Eat Less to Live Longer? Elsewhere, Joanna Fantozzi looks at how humankind has tried (in vain) to change the rules in Elixirs of Life: A History; Alyssa Haak examines 10 Very Long Careers in the Culinary World; Daisy Nichols reveals the Last Meals of 22 Famous People; and I discuss Healthspanners and Immortalists: A Philosophy of Longevity. Cole Chilton’s videos on Longevity: Genes, Nutrition, & Proof; Longevity: Superfoods and Antioxidants; and Longevity: Eating Organic fill out the package.

Is reading this special section guaranteed to lengthen your lifespan? Sorry, but no. It might inspire you to take steps in the right direction, though — or at least give you something to think about while you’re still here.

— Colman Andrews, Editorial Director


Timeline: 2 Million Years of Lifespan and Diet