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5 foods to avoid if you want to live a longer life

Recently, something called the “Poisonous P’s” have started making headlines.

Dr. Valter Longo, professor of gerontology and director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, gave an interview to The New York Times this spring about the link between diet and living longer. In it, he recommended legumes and fish (not groundbreaking, if we’re being honest) and avoiding five foods that start with P: pizza, pasta, protein, potatoes and pane (bread in Italian).

Another doctor agrees that these types of foods should be consumed in moderation and that diet is one of a few keys to increasing our odds of living a longer, healthier life (maybe even until 100).

“Our diet supplies us with most of the raw materials we need to sustain life, grow our bodies, repair injuries and give us the energy to carry out our purpose on earth,” says Dr. Trent Orfanos, the director of integrative and functional cardiology at Case Integrative Health. “Food is information. If we give the body bad information, we can expect poor outcomes in our health, so we need to eat smart for longevity.”

Orfanos holds board certifications in internal medicine, cardiology, integrative medicine, functional medicine and anti-aging medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. He’s spent more than 30 years treating patients and studying tools for longevity, and he has his own advice for foods to avoid — or at least minimize — if you want to live a longer life:

Five foods to avoid

White pasta: White pasta is considered a highly refined carb. “These are starches that have been heavily processed to remove almost everything besides the starch,” Orfanos says. “These foods very quickly are metabolized to sugar, which can drive up inflammation.” Other foods to avoid? White rice and white bread.

Soda: Liquids are part of your diet, but if you want to live to celebrate your 100th birthday, your best bet is to avoid sugar-sweetened varieties like soda.

“Sugar is very inflammatory, and inflammation drives most of the chronic diseases that shorten our lives,” Orfanos says.

Fruit juices are the same, he says. A study of rats published in 2022 in Nutrition linked soda and high-fat food consumption with inflammation.

Ice cream: Of course, you can have your favorite ice cream on the side of your 100th birthday cake and eat it, too. However, Orfanos says it’s also best to keep sugar-sweetened foods like ice cream to a minimum. His reasoning is the same as above. A 2021 narrative review highlighted the high risk for diseases, including heart disease, cancer and dental disease, from high-sugar diets.

Pie: Commercial baked goods like pies have partially hydrogenated oils. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration deemed them unsafe. As of January 2020, U.S. food manufacturers can’t sell foods with partially hydrogenated oils. However, as the Cleveland Clinic points out, that’s not the end of the story: Small amounts of trans fats are still in foods such as pies and pie crusts.

“These are fats that have been chemically changed to make them hard and stable at room temperature,” Orfanos says. “When consumed, these fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, creating inflammation.”

Hot dogs: A baseball stadium classic, hot dogs aren’t necessarily a home run if you want to reach extra innings, so to speak. “Processed meat, such as hot dogs, sausage and some deli meats, should be avoided as much as possible,” Orfanos says. “They’ve been implicated in cancer, and they can promote heart disease.”

Research published in 2021 linked processed and red meat consumption with higher odds of developing multiple cancers, including lung and colon.

What to eat for longer life

Do you see all your favorite foods above? Listen, delicious meals are still on the table.

With that in mind, here are a few things Orfanos recommends loading up on:

Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds like almonds and walnuts are full of healthy fats, fiber and micronutrients. “They are associated with decreased incidence of heart disease and cancer and increased longevity,” Orfanos says.

Extra virgin olive oil: Another healthy fat is extra virgin olive oil. consider swapping butter for olive oil when cooking. “This unrefined oil contains large amounts of naturally occurring polyphenols, which reduce inflammation,” Orfanos says. It also reduces the incidence of stroke, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease and extends life.”

Cruciferous vegetables: Yep, eat your veggies, especially leafy greens like broccoli and arugula. “These vegetables are good sources of soluble and insoluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol, improve blood sugars, improve gut health and aid in the prevention of some cancers,” Orfanos explains. “They can also reduce inflammation.”

Berries: Whole fruits like strawberries and blueberries are powerhouses for your body. “They are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, vitamin C and many vital nutrients,” Orfanos says.

Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel and herring are stellar protein choices. “They have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids,” Orfanos says. “These are linked to reduced death from any cause due to the potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and other benefits from the fish oils.”

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