How to Add More Years to Your Life

How to Add More Years to Your Life

by Ann G. Kulze, MD

March is National Nutrition Month and the perfect time to learn how to add five to six-and-one-half years to your life span simply by eating some of nature’s most delicious foods on a daily basis. A team of scientists from the Netherlands recently reported in the British Medical Journal (December 2004, Volume 329) that adults over the age of 50 who make wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic and almonds part of their daily fare could experience a 76% lower risk of cardiovascular problems, along with many extra years of life and vitality with healthy hearts and arteries. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in westernized cultures and kills more people than all forms of cancer combined.

Researchers involved in the study combed the medical literature to find specific foods that had been shown in statistically valid scientific studies to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease or modify its risk factors. They then used computerized, mathematical models to determine how the combined effects of these individual, “heart-healthy” foods could translate to a longer heart disease-free life. They dubbed the combination of these foods the “polymeal” and found that men and women could add 6.6 years and 4.8 years to their life expectancy respectively. For the what, why and how of these six life preserving foods read on.


Many epidemiologic studies have consistently found that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. In The Netherland’s Report, a daily glass (5 ounces) of wine was found to reduce the risk by 32%. Moderate alcohol intake appears to benefit our arteries through many mechanisms including: reduced blood clotting, reduced inflammation, enhanced HDL (good) cholesterol levels and improved blood sugar metabolism. It is theorized that wine, especially red wine, offers additional health benefits because of the potent antioxidant, polyphenol compounds it contains. In the case of this potentially life-lengthening food, please note that intakes exceeding moderate amounts are associated with many health risks to include high blood pressure, many cancers, accidents and dependency, amongst others. Unlike most of the other foods included in the “polymeal”, more is definitely not better with this particular one.


These delectable morsels have documented cholesterol lowering effects and were found to reduce cardiovascular risks by 12.5 % when consumed in the amount of 2.4 ounces daily (that is equivalent to two small handfuls). Almonds, like their other nut cousins, contain heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats with known cholesterol-lowering effects. They also contain fiber and plant sterols (phytosterols) capable of reducing cholesterol levels, along with additional cardio-protective nutrients including vitamin E, potassium, magnesium and argenine. Almonds make for an ideal snack and are fantastic for adding a tasty crunch to cereals and salads.


Numerous studies have found that regular consumption of fish decreases death from heart disease. The polymeal investigators report that eating four ounces (a small standard serving) of fish four times a week can reduce cardiovascular risk by 14%. Fish, especially oily varieties like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and lake trout, contain the superstar, “make-me-healthier”, long chain omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA. These special omega 3 marine oils have numerous cardiovascular benefits including; lowered blood pressure, decreased blood clotting, decreased triglyceride levels, improved arterial health, decreased risk of arrhythmia and sudden death and decreased progression of atherosclerotic plaque. Regularly choose fish, especially the oily varieties, as your protein of choice.

Dark Chocolate

How sweet it is to find out that choosing a bit of dark chocolate for dessert can improve the health of our arteries! Several recent studies report that dark chocolate is loaded with potent antioxidant plant chemicals, called flavanols, that appear to promote healthy blood flow through several favorable effects on the cells lining our arteries. According to The Netherland’s Report, enjoying about 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily translates to a 21% reduction in cardiovascular risk. Always choose dark chocolate over white or milk chocolate, as these forms have not been shown to have any benefits and make sure to limit your indulgences to the prescribed amounts. Eating too much dark chocolate can certainly lead to weight gain, which would wipe out any potential health benefits.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables are nature’s nutritional megastars and provide a host of benefits to our hearts and arteries. As part of the daily polymeal, 14 ounces (several servings depending on type) of fruits and veggies can lower cardiovascular risk by 21%. Fruits and veggies are brimming with antioxidants that help maintain the health of our arteries and contain soluble fiber and phytosterols that can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables has well documented blood pressure lowering effects and provides one of the simplest eating strategies available to maintain a healthy body weight. When choosing your produce, go for quantity, color and variety. Garlic, onions, blueberries, strawberries, red grapes, avocados, broccoli and asparagus are especially beneficial for cardiovascular health, so make them your first choice.


This diminutive food is loaded with flavor from plant compounds called allyl sulfides that exert medicinal properties as well. As part of the daily polymeal, 2.7 grams of garlic (about 1-3 cloves depending on size) reduces cardiovascular risk 20%. The organosulfur compounds that form when garlic is crushed or chopped have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, in addition to lowering blood pressure and thinning the blood. To maximize the goodness in garlic, use it freshly chopped or minced and add it to your foods at the end of cooking.

In Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet (Top Ten Wellness and Fitness, October 2004), Ann Kulze, M.D., a primary care physician and wellness expert with a unique expertise in nutrition, gives readers a plan they can sink their teeth into, permanently. A wife and mother of four, Dr. Ann graduated valedictorian from the Medical University of South Carolina and has practiced as a primary care physician for over 15 years. She is the founder and CEO of Just Wellness, LLC, a firm specializing in corporate and group wellness seminars, and her expert advice recently appeared in Time magazine. Hometown: Charleston, SC.

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