(This article was originally published on Parsley Health's blog)
Press Pause on Premature Aging. Start today. Live longer.
For many, the idea of changing their diet to increase longevity can seem extreme and futile, like paying for baggage insurance on a flight. Is it really necessary? It can be hard to take action now on something as intangible as ‘in-case’ or ‘one-day’, but emerging science says that when it comes to slowing the aging process, it might be worth it.
A new study published in a July 2017 issue of New England Journal of Medicine, found that just a few, small dietary changes can add years to your life, in other words, you don’t have to make over your entire way of eating to get the anti-aging benefits. People who improved their diet by only 20% by doing things like eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish and decreasing their consumption of red and processed meats and sugary beverages, lowered their risk of premature death by 8-17%. So cleaning up just one meal per day, can have a big impact on your lifespan.
In Functional Medicine, we view premature aging as a disease state. Rather than something that we just have to accept, aging is a lifestyle-driven, pathological condition that occurs when our body’s defenses are overwhelmed by environmental factors, and the rate of damage surpasses our ability to repair ourselves. By making strategic dietary changes, we can give our bodies the boost they need to enhance their resilience and ability to heal.
7 Youth-Enhancing Foods
1. Carotenoid-Containing Foods
Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants. When consumed, they act like a cellular shield, absorbing and deflecting free radicals before they are able to cause damage. (like an internal sunscreen!) Carotenoids are found in carrots, apricots, jackfruit, ripe tomatoes, yellow peppers, sweet potatoes and other yellow/orange vegetables. Because they are fat-soluble, carotenoids are best absorbed with fat in a meal. For example, you could cook your carotenoid-containing vegetables in oil (ghee, coconut oil) or have a healthy fat source (olive oil, avocados, nuts) in the same dish.
2. Oily Fish
The membranes that surround your cells are made entirely of fat, so getting enough of the right kinds of fats in your diet is vital to building up cellular defense and regeneration. Oily fish like mackerel, sardines, and salmon are great sources of the omega-3 fatty acids you need to support your cells. What’s more, omega-3s can lower systemic inflammation, which is a root cause of most degenerative diseases (ex: heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s). Thus, oily fish should be a staple in any anti-aging diet.
Coffee is high in polyphenols (micronutrients that act as protective antioxidants). A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in July 2017 found that coffee consumption was associated with decreased risk of premature death – people who drink a cup of coffee a day were 12% less likely to die from cancer, stroke, diabetes as well as heart, kidney and respiratory disease compared to non-coffee-drinkers. And the more coffee the better: Those who drank up to three cups a day, reduced their risk by 18%. (This also applies to decaffeinated coffee, so the benefits aren’t just due to caffeine).
Dark green, leafy vegetables allow your body to achieve optimal methylation, an important epigenetic mechanism that controls healthy gene expression. (DNA methylation imbalance is similar to inflammation in that it’s associated with almost every complex chronic disease out there, including heart disease, strokes, mood disorders, mental deterioration, and premature aging.) B vitamins play an important role in keeping methylation enzymes running. Top sources of folate and vitamins B6 and B12 are swiss chard, watercress, dandelion, beet greens, lentils, several types of beans, asparagus, broccoli, oily fish, liver, grass-fed meat, chicken, turkey, wheat germ, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and sweet potatoes.
Green tea has long been eastern medicine’s elixir of choice for eternal youth; you may have heard of Matcha, it’s more potent (and prettier) version, which is taking the wellness world by storm. The green tea leaf is one of the best sources of catechin antioxidants and the amino acid L-Theanine (a powerful cognition booster shown to promote relaxation).
Cacao Raw,organic cacao is one of the richest sources of polyphenol antioxidants in the world. When consumed, it activates our internal antioxidant enzymes (Superoxide Dismutase and Nitric Oxide) which are more potent than any antioxidants that we consume. Dark chocolate also seems to offer protection to the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus where neurogenesis (the growth of new nerve tissue) occurs. A randomized control trial involving healthy, middle-aged adults, found that cacao flavanols improved dentate gyrus functioning, in effect reversing age-related memory decline.
7. Nuts & Seeds
Research shows that eating nuts and seeds decreases cellular aging by preserving telomere length (a biomarker for biologic aging); for each 1-percent of total energy derived from nuts and seeds, telomeres were 5 base pairs longer). Raw nuts and seeds are a great snack option when you’re on the go and need something portable and shelf-stable. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds are all packed with minerals and other youth-enhancing nutrients like vitamin E for healthy skin, omega-3 fatty acids which promote a healthy brain and nervous system and fiber which keeps your digestive system running smoothly.
To get you started, here are two age-defying recipes. As a general tip, many herbs, spices, and alliums (anything from the onion family) have anti-aging properties, so don’t hold back on seasoning your meals! With herbs and spices, look to basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, ground clove, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and dill. For alliums, stock up on garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives, all of which are high in sulfur which enhances liver detoxification.
Raw Rainbow Bowl
This raw, chopped salad contains only anti-aging ingredients – grated, raw beetroot; carotenoid-containing carrots and red peppers; methylation-supportive broccoli ‘rice’ and a dressing so creamy you won’t believe it’s good for you. (Serves 4)
- 2 cups grated beetroot, raw
- 2 cups finely chopped broccoli, raw
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 1 red capsicum pepper, sliced in strips
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 2 hours, water discarded
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tspn nutritional yeast
- 2 tspn tahini
- 2 tspn raw honey
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 clove garlic
- Sea salt & black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup of water, more or less, depending on preferred consistency
- Sprinkle of sesame seeds
- A few leaves of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 4-5 walnuts, crushed
- 1 apricot (fresh or dried), finely chopped
Combine dressing ingredients in a high-speed blender. Assemble your chopped salad ingredients in a bowl. Scoop dressing (more like a thick sauce) onto your bowl and sprinkle with your topping.
Creamy Cacao Breakfast Smoothie
(one generous serving)
- 1 tbsn soaked seeds *
- 1 tbsn raw, organic cacao powder
- 1 tbsn collagen powder
- 1 heaped scoop of Parsley Health (vanilla) protein shake
- 1/2 cup organic coffee
- A couple of walnuts
- 1 cup filtered water
Blend ingredients in a high-speed blender and serve over ice.
* Soaked / activated seed mix: At the beginning of the week, fill half of a medium-sized mason jar with a mixture of seeds (sunflower, flax, pumpkin, sesame), fill the rest of the way with water and add a pinch of sea salt. Allow seeds to soak for a few hours (at least 2) and then discard the water. Refrigerate mixture for use in your morning smoothies.
Got questions? Ask me anything, here :)