When it comes to slowing the aging process, most people turn to botox and plastic surgery. They ignore the simplest, pain-free anti-aging tool available to them: A healthy diet.
Food affects all the systems in your body that lead to aging and dysfunction. The right diet can have a profound anti-aging effect, keeping your body lean and strong, your skin vibrant, and your brain in peak form.
Anti-aging nutrition should include the following five components:
#1: Get high-quality protein to maintain bone, muscle, and connective tissue.
Although most people surpass the recommended protein intake from the U.S. government, research shows that this amount (0.8 g/kg/bodyweight) is not enough to maintain function and slow the aging process.
Anti-aging researchers recommend that people over age 40 eat double the U.S. RDA and get 1.6 g/kg or 120 grams daily for a 165-pound adult.
This will help to prevent the natural muscle and bone loss that comes with aging. By maintaining lean mass, you won’t experience as much of a drop in metabolic rate and can prevent the fat gain that is so common in the aging body.
Foods To Eat: Animal proteins are a pivotal part of an anti-aging diet because they provide all the essential amino acids your body needs to maintain bone and muscle. Animal proteins also tend to be well digested as long as you chew them properly and they provide a range of nutrients that are necessary for optimal energy and brain function (creatine, carnitine, vitamin B12, to name a few).
Eggs, fish, poultry, meat, whey protein, and dairy should make up the majority of your protein intake and you can round it out with nuts, beans, and other plant-based proteins.
#2: Eat healthy fat from a variety of sources to ensure optimal hormone balance.
Many people are surprised to hear that a low-fat diet can accelerate the aging process because it doesn’t provide the raw materials to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol-based hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol.
Healthy fats also providing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K that play a critical role in bone and hormone metabolism. Finally, eating fat in the context of healthy, whole carbs is associated with better insulin health and blood sugar regulation, which as you’ll see in number 3 plays a primary role in the aging process.
Foods To Eat: A balanced intake of a variety of different fats will have the greatest anti-aging effect. Nuts, avocado, and olive oil are protective against heart disease. Butter, whole fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat, and coconut oil allow for absorption of vitamins and nutrients, while providing cholesterol for hormone synthesis. Seafood provides the omega-3 fatty acids that counter inflammation and improve insulin signaling for better metabolic function.
#3: Eat a low sugar, lower carb diet to avoid insulin and blood sugar spikes.
When you see someone who looks older than they should, a good bet is that they have high insulin levels or are diabetic. Skin tags, wrinkles on the face and the back of the neck, and sagging skin are all unfortunate signs of aging that are caused by high blood sugar levels. Why is this?
High blood sugar levels encourage the body to produce complex proteins called AGEs (an acronym for advanced glycation endproducts). In simple terms, glycation is browning, such as the yellowing that occurs when you cut an apple in half and let it sit. In this case, the injured plant tissue is exposed to oxygen, which reacts with the amino acids in the apple to cause oxidation and a change in color.
Glycated proteins act like free radicals, circulating in the body and damaging cells and DNA. They interfere with cell functioning, accumulate in skin making it look wrinkly, and damage blood vessels. AGEs are also implicated in the development of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and metabolic syndrome.
Although all tissues are harmed by high levels of AGEs, skin in particular takes a beating. Collagen, which is the protein that makes skin look taught and young, is impaired by glycation in multiple ways. AGEs break down collagen, distorting its ability to bounce back or retain its shape. Saggy skin is a hallmark of high insulin and exposure to AGEs. Additionally, the ability to convert L-arginine to nitric oxide, a critical cofactor in the crosslinking of collagen fibers, is impaired.
Foods To Eat: Completely eliminating carbs isn’t necessary, but you do need to get your blood sugar and insulin under control if you hope to slow the aging process. If you have blood sugar issues, start by removing added sugar and refined carbs from your diet.
Nowadays, added sugar is in everything from salad dressing to salsa, so read labels and choose options with no sugar added and a low-carb content. Bread, cookies, crackers, and other processed foods should be avoided in favor of whole carbs. Fruit juice and sugar sweetened beverages are big offenders when it comes to elevating blood sugar and the production of AGEs.
Choose healthy carb sources such as leafy greens, lower carb fruits and vegetables (cucumbers, peppers, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, citrus). Save higher carb foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and other grains for after exercise or dinner.
#4: Use gentle cooking methods that minimize the production of free radicals.
Another harmful source of AGEs is cooking: Grilling, frying, and charring are all known to cause glycation, which damage DNA and tissue when consumed. In fact, one theory behind the link between meat consumption and increased cancer risk is the consumption of pre-formed AGEs in meat.
How To Cook: Water-based cooking such as boiling and steaming produce lower levels of AGEs. Cooking with lower temperatures can also prevent glycation, so avoid burning meat and vegetables in favor of gentler cooking methods such as stewing or roasting.
#5: Eat antioxidant-rich foods to tamp down inflammation and slow aging.
Antioxidants are molecules that can bind to free radicals and AGEs, neutralizing them so that they can no longer damage cells and DNA. Antioxidants can also reduce damage to mitochondria that are the energy factories for cells.
People with higher levels of antioxidants in their blood experience less aging and greater longevity. Antioxidants can also be applied topically in creams or serums to protect skin and slow the cellular aging process that leads to collagen breakdown and wrinkles.
Foods To Eat: Fruits and vegetables tend to be loaded with antioxidants—all berries, cherries, olives, avocado, pomegranate, kiwi, peaches, nectarines, all leafy green vegetables, cauliflower, colored peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes are packed with phytonutrients that can delay aging. Whey protein, chocolate, coffee, and lentils are other anti-aging foods to include on a regular basis.