Food, Nutrition and Longevity Habits: You are What, When and How Much You Eat
This page introduces the complex world of how nutrition, longevity and healthy aging are related.
While details and specific diets are subject to fierce academic debate, the basics – including the damage caused by sugar and excess fat deposits – are not. Here are the areas I introduce below:
- Sugar Kills: Let’s cut to the chase, sugar, and simple carbs are aging you, rapidly.
- Calorie Restriction: How cutting the calories keeps your cells young.
- Excess Fat: The root of chronic diseases, inflammation, and cell senescence.
- Longevity Foods: The base layer of healthy aging is smart food choices.
- Gut Microbiome: Eating for a healthy microbiome has longevity benefits
- Aging Supplements: Fads, fakes, and fantasies – the right supplements for you.
Longevity nutrition habits link these topics. Quick wins will have you feeling energised, clear-minded, and ready to learn more. Once the benefits start to accumulate (and those poisons are banished), you’ll be hungry for the next steps.
Sugar Kills: Make No Mistake Sugars are Killing You
If you thought the amount of added sugar in our diet was bad, wait until you hear what happens to simple carbohydrates after digestion.
Carbs including bread and potatoes are rapidly broken into glucose, a simple sugar.
The finer the flour is ground, the bigger its surface area – and the faster that wall of glucose hits your bloodstream. Sugar in your blood triggers the release of insulin. That tells your cells to store the excess energy, in the form of fat.
That tired feeling an hour after eating is the rapid drop in blood sugar following this insulin response. Eating more carbs or sugars is a quick fix. Welcome to the glucose rollercoaster, the cycle of repeated hunger and tiredness. Left unchecked – you are on the road that leads to type II diabetes.
While sugar lurks everywhere, even in foods that many people believe are healthy. Fruit juices are the classic example. It actively damages cells, affects your gut microbiome and (in the case of fructose) affects your liver.
In reality, many of life’s pleasures involve sugars and simple carbohydrates.
Moving towards a healthy old age involves acknowledging that the occasional treat makes you happy. There are quick wins available, without that delicious chocolate or cake being the first thing to go.
Longevity Nutrition: Calorie Restriction Extends Life (But…)
Skinny mice live longer, they stay youthful and active for longer too.
The problem is, permanently restricting the number of calories to 70% or 80% of the average is not comfortable. Those mice are small, cold, and unhappy. I’m not even sure that level of restriction is sustainable for most of us.
Fortunately, you can get the benefits of calorie restriction without being permanently ‘hangry.’
Intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating and longer fasts all have benefits. Fasts trigger autophagy, where the body recycles cellular components. When fasted, the body will break down and repurpose old and tired cells, the effect is rejuvenation.
I’m not a fan of being hungry. Luckily, there are ways to mimic fasts – by being selective in what you eat. There are also drugs and supplements which trigger scarcity responses in our cells.
Add to this list switching the types of food you eat, and the powerful rejuvenating effects of fasting are within easy reach.
You’ll find detailed guides to the types of fasting, and how to build habits to get the benefits without the pain of being hungry here at the Age Well Times.
Fat: Obesity and Excess Fat Deposits Shorten Life
Obesity is a touchy subject.
You can argue the semantics of whether someone which a BMI of over 30 can be fit and healthy all day long. For me, there is no reason why someone clinically obese can’t currently be free of all diseases, and even moderately fit.
At the same time, that excess fat (both subcutaneous and visceral) is damaging to your health in significant ways. Here is a selection:
- Reducing Immune Function
- Chronic Inflammation
- Cell Senescence
- Higher Risk of Type II Diabetes
- Higher Risk of Cancer
- Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Illness
- Higher Risk of Alzheimer’s
To put it bluntly, excess fat accelerates aging, and is a major risk factor in multiple horrible conditions which will accelerate it further. There is a good reason that active older people are not obese.
Your priority must be to eliminate excess fat.
I have covered this touchy topic in detail, links to the clinical data included in this article: Fat, Longevity and Health
Longevity Foods: Nutrition is the Base Layer of Healthy Aging
Ever noticed that most healthy eating guides focus on not eating certain foods?
What happens when you switch things around? Let’s focus on what you should be eating more of, instead of cutting down.
The toxicity of the foods listed below is, backed up by research:
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Fibre found in vegetables is a shortcut to a healthy gut microbiome and regular bowel movements. There is a more important reason to add broccoli, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables to your daily routine. This is the powerful antioxidant Sulforaphane.
- Fresh Oily Fish: Omega-3 oils are essential for a healthy nervous system and will boost our immune system. Recent studies associate Omega-3 fatty acids with lowered risk of Alzheimer’s too.
- Olives and Olive Oil: Few natural foods have a list of benefits as long as that of the humble olive. Powerful antioxidant qualities are just the start. Olive oil is shown to protect the heart and nervous system. Switching damaging seed oils (sunflower oil for example) for olive oil is a quick win for healthy longevity.
- Berries: Most fruit is packed with too much sugar to be considered remotely healthy; berries are a notable exception. Strawberries contain Fisetin, which combines antioxidant properties with being a senolytic. Blueberries are a ‘superfood,’ a powerful antioxidant with benefits to bones and cardiac health.
- High Quality Meat: Grass fed, organic lean beef is packed with protein. It also contains essential B-vitamins. Avoiding frailty in old age requires muscle tone – and you’ll need protein as well as resistance training to maintain this. On the flip side, low quality processed meats are among the worst foods to consume. If you choose not to eat meat, an alternative healthy protein source is required.
- Eggs: Packed with amino acids, vitamins (D and B12 especially) and iodine, eggs have a lot of benefits for a small number of calories. New research is rapidly unravelling worries about cholesterol too.
You’ll find deep-dive articles right here at the Age Well Times covering individual foods, along with the clinical evidence of their pros and cons.
Longevity and Nutrition: What Foods to Avoid?
The quickest wins for a less frail old age involve understanding which foods are aging you, then eating them less often.
I covered the main killer, sugar, above.
It bears repeating that added sugar or deserts are only part of the picture. Bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice are quickly broken down into glucose. Next time you eat a sandwich, imagine those slices of bread as sugar – the process really is that direct.
It is super-hard to cut all simple carbs from your diet. Healthy aging food habits are best started small, and reducing the number of potatoes, or halving the pasta with tonight’s dinner is a fantastic start.
Other foods which you should incrementally avoid are:
- Seed Oils: Sunflower oil, Canola (rapeseed) oil, palm oil and many others are poison for our cells. They are also major ingredients of processed foods.
- Processed Meats: Sausages, smoked meats and highly processed meats contain carcinogens. Burned meats at barbeques cause inflammation and massive oxidative stress.
- Breakfast Cereals: I believe we will look back on the era of giving children breakfast cereals and cringe. Highly processed carbs are the opposite of healthy (even with added vitamins). They are the equivalent of a bowl of glucose to start the day.
- Alcohol: As a big fan of red wine (especially the French stuff), adding alcohol to this list makes me sad. Unfortunately, it is aging you in multiple ways. Alcohol is negative for your gut microbiome, stops you getting quality sleep and toxic for the liver. Moderation is key.
I’ll end this section on a positive.
Longevity and healthy aging are not all about cutting out the pleasurable foods. It is about finding a balance between enjoying life and feeling that energy and drive that comes from a healthy body.
If I Had Any More Supplements, I’d Rattle: Topping up for your Daily Nutritional Needs with Longevity Boosters
I’ve met people that refuse point blank to take vitamin or mineral supplements.
Yet without the right balance, everything from immune health to cellular signalling and DNA repair is compromised.
In an ideal world, we would all get regular blood panel tests. That would highlight what we are short of (or have too much of). You’d then adjust your diet or buy supplements to get the right balance – before retesting your blood.
Back to real life, and a more pragmatic approach is needed.
Downside risks for vitamin and mineral deficiency are significant.
Which vitamins and minerals would cause me to age if I lacked them? And have no harmful effects if I take too much?
My longevity supplements page is a great starting point.