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Diet and longevity, is there a link?

Typical Mediterranean meal

Bacterial composition found in our gut depends in large part on the food we consume every day [1]. More diverse bacterial composition leads to a healthier lifestyle and an improvement in the overall well-being of the human body. Healthy longevity depends on many factors. While a specific gut microbiota composition will not guarantee a long and healthy life, it is a key contributor and an indicator of a dietary pattern consistent with the proven longevity diets of the world [2]. 

In today’s world, societies often adopt a dietary pattern that is not ideal for healthy aging and overall well-being. Western diet, for example, is characterized by high caloric density, high intake of meat (especially red), saturated fat, low intake of fruits, vegetables and fiber [3]. 

On the other hand, diets known to be healthy ones are Mediterranean and Japanese diet [4]. According to Estruch et al., the traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and cereals, a moderate intake of fish and poultry, a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets. Wine in moderation, when consumed with meals, is also a part of the Mediterranean diet [5].

Japanese diet is a low-calorie yet nutrition-dense diet, characterized by large amounts of cereals (rice), vegetables, fruits, and fish. There is a much lower intake of fats in the Japanese diet. Mediterranean diet has been ranked as the most likely dietary model to provide protection against coronary heart disease, while Japanese people are famous for their healthy life expectancy [4, 6].

These healthy dietary patterns share many important features: high intake of unrefined carbohydrates, moderate protein intake (vegetables, fish and lean meat) and a healthy fat profile (healthy heart). These diets also include low sugar load. All of these features result in a healthy fat profile, lower caloric intake and may promote healthy aging [7].

Typical Japanese meal

Figure 1. Typical Japanese meal

We can see that diet controlled microbiome is involved in various pathways and processes, in our body, leading to health and longevity. In addition, there is a growing number of scientific articles focusing on the important role of gut bacteria modulating human behavior. The concept of bidirectional signaling between the gut microbiota and the brain is currently a very active field of research. The relationship between gut microbial metabolism and mental health is one of the most intriguing and controversial topics in microbiome research [8, 9].  

‘Why does the microbiome affect our behavior?’, ‘Does our gut contain mind-altering bacteria?’, ‘Is our gut an organ of mind?’ are some of the hot topics for future research in this field and the topic of our next blog. If you wish to learn more about the microbiome effect on mood and behaviour please check out our next weeks blog at



[1]    Singh, R. K., Chang, H. W., Yan, D., Lee, K. M., Ucmak, D., Wong, K., ... & Bhutani, T. (2017). Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. Journal of translational medicine, 15(1), 73.

[2]    Cordain, L., Eaton, S. B., Sebastian, A., Mann, N., Lindeberg, S., Watkins, B. A., ... & Brand-Miller, J. (2005). Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 81(2), 341-354. 

[3]    Popkin, B. M. (1999). Urbanization, lifestyle changes and the nutrition transition. World development, 27(11), 1905-1916.

[4]    Tokudome, S., Nagaya, T., Okuyama, H., Tokudome, Y., Imaeda, N., Kitagawa, I., ... & Kuriki, K. (2000). Japanese versus Mediterranean diets and cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 1(1), 61-6.

[5]    Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, M. I., Corella, D., Arós, F., ... & Lamuela-Raventos, R. M. (2013). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(14), 1279-1290.

[6]    Mente, A., de Koning, L., Shannon, H. S., & Anand, S. S. (2009). A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Archives of internal medicine, 169(7), 659-669.

[7]    Willcox, D. C., Scapagnini, G., & Willcox, B. J. (2014). Healthy aging diets other than the Mediterranean: a focus on the Okinawan diet. Mechanisms of ageing and development, 136, 148-162.

[8]    Lucas, G. (2018). Gut thinking: the gut microbiome and mental health beyond the head. Microbial ecology in health and disease, 29(2), 1548250.

[9]    Valles-Colomer, M., Falony, G., Darzi, Y., Tigchelaar, E. F., Wang, J., Tito, R. Y., ... & Claes, S. (2019). The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. Nature microbiology, 4(4), 623.

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