Did you know that one of the benefits of good nutrition is that you can easily improve your chances of healthy aging and add years to your life by making smarter food choices? The fact is, proper nutrition and healthy aging are inextricably linked.
Nobody gets to live forever, but if you’re anything like me, you’re interested in aging gracefully and having a long and healthy life. It turns out that there are some simple longevity lifestyle hacks you can adopt that are your best bet to live a long, disease-free life.
These hacks include adopting a diet of fresh, whole food, preferably organic, that emphasizes vegetables and fruits, and maintaining a fitness lifestyle with plenty of exercise – the importance of exercise can’t be over-emphasized.
While aging is a natural process, probably for as long as humans have existed, we’ve wondered how we can delay or prevent our eventual end. The search for the fountain of youth continues, and researchers look at everything, including healthy foods for older people.
In 2016 a team of Korean scientists discovered that consumption of the micronutrients vitamin C, folate and potassium was associated with delayed biological ageing.
Their study, published in in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, followed the ageing process of nearly 2,000 middle aged and older adults for ten years. The investigated the association between nutrient intake and biological ageing as measured by leukocyte telomere length (LTL).
What are Telomeres, and How do They Relate to Healthy Aging?.
Telomeres are segments of DNA at the end of our chromosomes, often compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces that prevent the laces from fraying.
Various studies now focus on telomere length, because scientists have discovered that telomeres are longer in younger people, and get progressively shorter with age.
When your cells divide, your telomeres get shorter, which eventually leads to cell loss. Shortening of telomeres is associated with aging, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and several types of cancer.
The research team found that “consumption of vitamin C, folate and potassium, which are abundant in fruits and vegetables, can delay biological aging in middle-aged and older adults.”
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Foods to Avoid.
1. Sodium. Consuming too much salt puts you at risk for early death. It’s just that simple. You can work around that by not eating out a lot, consuming prepackaged foods or eating processed meats and foods.
2. Processed meats. I can’t imagine this is the first time you’ve heard this. Look, I love bacon too, but processed meats like bacon, hot dogs and cold cuts are bad for you.
3. Unprocessed red meat. Eating too much steak can affect your risk of death just as much as eating processed meats. Look below at the Mediterranean diet, and you’ll see that red meat is consumed significantly less than in the traditional American diet.
4. Sugary drinks. Do we really need to talk about this? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends less than 5% of your daily caloric intake come from sugar, but Americans on average consume almost 10 times that amount, mostly from sodas, energy drinks and sugar.
Do yourself a favor and stick to water.
The Mediterranean Diet
Scientists have spent years exploring what foods promote longevity. A recent study in The British Journal of Nutrition found direct evidence that supports the beneficial properties of the Mediterranean diet.
The study actually looked at three previous studies, and concluded that adhering to the principles of the traditional Mediterranean diet promotes longevity. Emphasize lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, omega-3 rich seafood, and reduce your red meat.
The Greek version of the Mediterranean diet includes a focus on olive oil, vegetables and fruits, which are high in antioxidants, which appears related to the longevity benefit. Additionally, the people of rural Greece frequently eat wild edible greens that contain very high quantities of flavonoids — considerably higher than those found in red wine or black tea.
What are Flavonoids?
Plant foods supply vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which are naturally occurring chemicals that help plants resist disease and bacteria. Flavonoids are a class of phytonutrients, and provide plants with their colorful pigments.
Makes sense, right? How many times have you heard that you should eat different colored vegetables and fruits?
Classes of Flavonoids
Anthocyanins are a class of flavonoids that give fruits, vegetables and flowers a blue, purple or deep red color. The best food sources of anthocyanins include all types of berries, red and purple grapes and red wine. These flavonoids have powerful antioxidant properties, and may protect your cells from damage caused by the aging process and environmental toxins.
Blackberries in particular are powerful antioxidants.
Anthocyanins have many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, and may help protect you from chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Flavanols are another class of flavonoids, and are found in chocolate, green tea, berries, grapes and apples.
Studies show that flavanols increase nitric acid blood levels, encouraging increased blood flow. One study, published in the “International Journal of Medical Sciences” in 2007, found the blood flow benefits may extend to the brain, which has important implications for cognition, learning and memory.
Another study, published in the “Journal of the American College of Cardiology” in 2005, produces a significant benefit for smokers, who suffer blood vessel restriction, substantially increasing their risk for cardiac disease
Green tea contains high concentrations of flavanols called catechins, which fight the free radicals that can cause cell damage leading to cancer.
Flavonols are another class of flavonoids found mainly in black tea, broccoli, yellow onions and berries. Studies show that flavonols help to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and decrease arterial plaque that can lead to arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Isoflavones are another class of flavonoids found in soy and other legumes. The Linus Pauling Institute found that isoflavones may help reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers, such as breast, uterine and prostate, and also may help increase bone density and promote bone formation in older women.
Do You Want a Long and Healthy Life?
When you think about growing older, the question is, do you want to be vibrant, active, alive, and free from chronic disease? I hope so. I sure do. So get with the program. Decide. Make the changes that will benefit you.
Switch to a diet that follows the fundamentals of the Mediterranean diet. What I mean by that is to look at the Mediterranean diet food pyramid. Match your diet to that food pyramid.
What We Do
Look, I love to cook, and love Asian flavors. The food we prepare at our house is frequently Asian in flavors, but follows the Mediterranean diet food pyramid. Make sense?
We have fish 3-4 nights per week, always have at least one vegetarian dinner per week, and the vast majority of the time, most of our daily food is from vegetables and fruits.
Think About It
The evidence is in, folks. Most of the people in the United States have suboptimal diets.
Is that you?
Do you want a long and healthy life?
You have to decide, and then go after it.
If you smoke, stop. If you drink soda, stop.
Everybody’s aware of the “healthcare crisis in America.” Too many people with too many diseases, and not enough personal responsibility. The change starts at home, one shopping list at a time, one glass at a time, one fork at a time.
Look, 35% of preventable deaths in the US for people 50 and over are related to poor health and fitness.
Let’s all be a part of taking that 35% number, and driving it down.