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The Connection Between Longevity, Glucose Levels, and Diet for a Healthy Life

Monica McCafferty, MS, CNS

Published in Health & Wellness

9 min read

December 29, 2023
an older adult on a walk outside with their dog
an older adult on a walk outside with their dog

In recent years, the study of Blue Zones, regions around the world with exceptionally high life expectancies, has shed light on lifestyle factors that may contribute to increased longevity. One key aspect that emerges from these investigations is the role of diet in influencing overall health.

Your daily dietary choices can play a major role not just in the length of your life, but also the quality of your years and the prevention of chronic diseases associated with aging. Understanding the delicate balance between your diet, glucose levels, and longevity is crucial for unlocking the secrets to a prolonged and vibrant life.

In this article, we'll reveal powerful scientific insights behind glucose and its connection to aging and longevity. You'll come away with practical tips that give you a leg-up on aging gracefully.

Understanding Longevity

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Longevity refers to a person’s life expectancy, typically measured in terms of years. It is a concept often associated with the pursuit of a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling existence.

While genetics can play a significant role in determining a person’s potential lifespan, environmental influences and healthcare practices also contribute to overall longevity. People interested in enhancing their longevity often focus on adopting healthy habits, such as:

Dietary changes in particular tend to be accessible and can contribute significantly to increasing your lifespan. Some people, like professor of gerontology, Dr. Valter Longo - creator of the longevity diet, - have even attempted to create a dietary formula for longevity. But is there really a specific dietary formula for longevity?

How Glucose Levels and Longevity Are Connected

The relationship between glucose levels and longevity is complex and multifaceted, and it can involve various biological mechanisms. When and what you eat can significantly impact your glucose curve, affecting how quickly and to what degree your blood sugar rises and falls.

Increasingly, studies suggest that the scale or degree of spikes and dips in glucose levels—also known as glycemic variability—can be a marker of metabolic health, including pointing to cardiovascular and diabetes disease risk. Additionally, conditions such as type 2 diabetes may raise risk for age-related dementia and cognitive decline as well as lead to oxidative damage that promotes aging

Blood Sugar Control

Chronically high levels of blood sugar and high glycemic variability can contribute to things like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and cellular damage if left unmanaged. Elevated blood sugar can lead to the formation of advanced glycation end products and oxidative stress, potentially accelerating the aging process.

Certain dietary patterns such as intermittent fasting, have been at times associated with potential benefits for longevity. However, discussions on intermittent fasting are complex and require a nuanced understanding for how best  to apply to individual cases for optimal results. 

Insulin Resistance

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Insulin is a hormone that instructs your cells to take up glucose and use it as energy, thereby removing glucose from the bloodstream. Over time, persistent abnormally high blood sugar levels may encourage the body to become less sensitive to insulin, increasing your risk for conditions including:

Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

High glycemic variability can increase oxidative stress and trigger inflammation and cellular damage. This may be associated with a range of health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and autoimmune conditions.

By contrast, maintaining optimal blood sugar levels through healthy eating habits and lifestyle changes can help reduce oxidative stress, which can further help minimize inflammation and support better overall health. 

Diabetes and Longevity

Left untreated, the chronically high blood sugar levels that are characteristic of type 2 diabetes can lead to health concerns affecting the cardiovascular and nervous systems, as well as multiple other organs of the body. Eating a healthy diet can lead to a lower risk of developing these conditions, and may help you live a longer life as a result.

What is a healthy diet? This isn’t always a simple answer and requires attention to individual health conditions, needs, and responses. Each person may need more fine-tuning to discover what macronutrient ratios and other factors are most supportive of their individual needs. 

Healthy Aging

Maintaining healthy glucose levels is integral to supporting healthy aging by reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. This also goes a long way in helping to lower the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, one meta-analysis published in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation found that type 2 diabetes was associated with a 60 percent increase in risk for all-cause dementia

The Role of Diet in Glucose Levels and Longevity

a plate of colorful veggies and chicken

Diet plays a pivotal role in influencing longevity by impacting various physiological processes and mitigating the risk of chronic diseases. Nutrient-dense, whole foods-based diets, as observed in Blue Zones, are associated with increased life expectancy.

Such diets, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, help combat oxidative stress and inflammation, contributing to cellular health and longevity. Modest caloric restriction, without malnutrition, has been linked to extended lifespan in various organisms, suggesting a potential role for mindful eating habits in promoting a long life.

Additionally, a diet low in ultra-processed foods such as added sugars can reduce the risk of health conditions that can affect lifespan. The appropriate balance of macronutrients, micronutrients, and a generally balanced dietary pattern all contribute to the potential for a longer, healthier life.

The Longevity Diet Plan

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The so-called Longevity Diet, put forth by Dr. Valter Longo, is just one example of an eating pattern that aims to take several longevity factors into account in order to maximize the health benefits of diets often observed in Blue Zones, or areas such as Okinawa, Japan with large populations of centenarians. 

However, some experts have criticized certain elements of this approach, such as its focus on low-protein intake and the fact that research on longevity and vegetarian diets is very mixed.

Some of the principles of Longo’s Longevity Diet include:

  • Eating a mostly whole food plant-based diet or a pescatarian diet with a relatively low protein intake.
  • Aim to consume foods with high vitamin and mineral content, and supplement with a multivitamin as needed once every three days.
  • Minimize sugar, processed food, and red meat, as well as saturated fats.
  • Include unprocessed complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables as well as unsaturated fats such as olive oil
  • Eating during a 12 hour window and four times per year, consume no more than 1,100 calories per day for five days, which provides the benefits of a fasting-mimicking diet.

While a diet like this may have certain health benefits for some people, each person will have different needs or tolerances when it comes to optimal nutrition. For some people, such as those with type 2 diabetes, consuming a lower-protein and relatively higher carb diet may pose a particular risk and a lower-carb diet may offer superior results

Remember to consult a healthcare professional such as a dietitian or qualified nutritionist for guidance before making significant changes to your diet.

Best Practices to Support Healthy Glucose Levels and Longevity

healthy glucose levels for longevity tips

Tending to diet and nutrition is one of the most important ways to impact your blood glucose levels, but it’s not the only factor to focus on. Many additional lifestyle factors can influence your glucose levels, making a holistic approach the most effective for supporting healthy glucose levels and promoting longevity. Here are just a few tips to follow:

More Fiber-Rich Foods and Adequate Protein

Incorporating fiber-rich foods and adequate amounts of protein into your diet has the effect of stabilizing glucose levels while offering a range of vitamins and minerals, including antioxidant-supportive nutrients like selenium.

Reduced Sugar Intake

Excessive sugar consumption can increase risk for insulin resistance, disrupting the body's ability to regulate blood sugar effectively. By minimizing added sugar intake, you can support stable glucose levels, reducing the risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and promoting overall metabolic health.

Regular Physical Activity

A vital component of any healthy lifestyle, regular physical activity tailored to your individual needs and tolerance may improve glucose regulation by increasing insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to use glucose for energy more efficiently.

However, don’t forget that your activity is only as good as how you fuel it! Exercise itself may increase oxidative stress and damage. If your diet lacks proper balance to support your activity level, this stress may become more noticeable. Therefore, it’s important to build a synergistic diet and exercise approach that helps each optimize the other. A sports dietitian can be an invaluable asset in helping you achieve this balance.  

Stress Management

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Glucose and stress have a bidirectional relationship: impaired glucose regulation can add stress to the body, and stress from other sources can cause glucose dysregulation. Stress can come in many forms and degrees, not always bad. However, chronic high stress may be particularly harmful and even increase your risk for insulin resistance.

Taking steps to relieve chronic stress can help you improve your health in the long-term.

Monitoring Glucose Levels

Monitoring your glucose levels with a continuous glucose monitor throughout the day allows you to see your glucose levels rise and fall in real time. With this information in hand, you can more easily identify patterns and trends that may be affecting your health goals and set yourself on a path to improved longevity.

Getting Adequate Sleep

Sleep and blood sugar are intertwined. Sleep affects your circadian rhythms, which in turn regulate many areas of metabolism, including insulin and blood glucose. By getting adequate and quality sleep, you’ll not only support your body’s immune regulation, detoxification processes, and cognitive function, but also help prevent conditions like insulin resistance.

Staying Well-Hydrated

Water helps to transport glucose through the bloodstream, making it a highly influential element on glucose. Recommendations for water intake from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) generally range from 2–2.7 liters per day for women and 2.5–3.7 liters per day for men. However, individual needs may vary depending on certain health conditions, activity level, sweat loss, and other factors. 

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.