What Should Women Eat to Live Longer?

The Harvard Nurses’s Health Study is considered to be the largest and longest investigation ever done of factors that influence women’s health, including which foods were key to live longer. The study started in 1976 and involved more than 100,000 participants(!). Interestingly, the study is based on a competing risks analysis, which allows comparison between factors as diverse as lifestyle, physical activity and food consumption. So what can you learn from this extensive study?

Just as it is the case in the general population, the leading causes of death were coronary heart disease (CHD) and cancer. As one would expect, consumption of cholesterol was the most significant risk factor for death from heart disease, while most cancer deaths were smoking-related cancer deaths. How do these two risk factors compare? What can you do to reduce such risks?

Amazingly, the competing risks analysis showed that consuming the amount of cholesterol found in just a single egg a day (~187 mg) appears to cut a woman’s life short as much as smoking 5 cigarettes a day.

From all the nutrients out there, the best source of protection against coronary heart disease was found to be: fiber. Eating the amount of fibers found in just one cup of oatmeal a day appears to extend a woman’s life as much as 4 hours of jogging a week!

In terms of specific foods, the one food most tied to longevity in the study was found to be nuts. Eating just two handfuls of nuts a week appears to be equivalent to 4 hours of jogging a week. This means that nuts won’t only help you lose weight, but also aid in extending longevity.

Learn more about the study in the video below via nutritionfacts.org.


Baer HJ, Glynn RJ, Hu FB, Hankinson SE, Willett WC, Colditz GA, Stampfer M, Rosner B. Risk factors for mortality in the nurses’ health study: a competing risks analysis. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Feb 1; 173(3):319-29. 

Spence JD, Jenkins DJ, Davignon J. Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis. 2012 Oct;224(2):469-73. 

  • Adriana Ponzanelli

    This studies are impossible to make with people, because people consume many other things than eggs. The study should be made where only eggs are eaten vs. plant food. Of course this is impossible to make at a large scale where you have people eating only eggs and others eating only plants for years. Usually people who eat eggs also eat breads and sugars. People concerned and following health facts are consuming more fibers because that is the way the media is telling, this shows you that this people may not be consuming the amount of sugars and processed foods than the ones that consumed the eggs. It may be what it is not consumed what makes the difference. The oldest woman in earth was 117 years old and she confessed that her secret was to consume raw eggs every day. So I am not sure about this studies.

    • Thanks for the note. You are absolutely right. “Correlation does not imply causation”, and this should not be forgotten. Note that also your example of the oldest woman in the world is just an example that cannot prove a general rule.

      Different people respond differently to different foods, and in nutrition to each her own.