Aging & Longevity

6 min Article Healthy Eating
Food and nutrition play a pivotal part in aging well and longevity.
Aging & Longevity

Aging is inevitable. The fountain of youth is not perennial. But rather than approach aging as a battle to be fought we can approach it as a journey with grace. We can choose the way we manage aging with positive lifestyle choices, healthy habits, and nutrition. Food plays a crucial role in both prolonging our lifespan in a healthy manner and improving our physical and mental well-being.

Research confirms that a balanced nutrition plan lower in calories, high in nutritious whole foods, and with reduced levels of sugar and salt contributes to longevity and better health. Foods that support brain, bone, and heart health can help combat age-related diseases like dementia, Alzheimer's, and osteoporosis. “A recent study found that eating certain nutrients and bioactives, along with lifestyle behavior changes, resulted in decreasing participant’s biological age by 3 years,” says Nadia Mahmud, Nutritionist at Roundglass.

Longevity and the Blue Zones Diet

One of the major breakthroughs in the link between longevity and diet is the discovery of “The Blue Zones Diet” by journalist Dan Buettner. His findings showed that people in five specific areas in the world had the most number of people living to 100 and above, and their longevity was directly linked to the food they ate and the lifestyle they led. The people of Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda, Ikaria, and Nicoya Peninsula followed what he called a Blue Zones Diet which is 90% plant-based. The diet is composed of leafy greens, beans, colorful vegetables and fruits, and nuts and seeds. Water is the drink of choice, oils are plant-based, the amounts of sugar, dairy, and animal products consumed are negligible. Whole foods are prioritized over processed ones.

And it’s a delicious way of eating. As Dan Buettner says, “The most important ingredient in longevity is that diet is taste.” Meals packed with fruits and vegetables, and recipes that release their textures and flavors, satisfy taste buds, and add to positive feelings towards food and healthy living.

Try this avocado salad by JL Fields with kale that supports cognition

How to Age Well?

Middle age is often a time to take stock of approaching old age. According to Frank Lipman, integrative doctor and co-author of “The New Rules of Aging Well,” it’s best to incorporate wellness practices in your lifestyle early on to build immunity and age better with practical steps like eating healthy, exercising, and managing stress to increase life expectancy.

Australian culinary icon Maggie Beer says that the march to eating for healthy old age must start young and recommends making “life-enhancing food as a way of life.” In her recent cookbook, “Maggie’s Recipes for Life,” Beer worked with Professor Ralph Martins, Foundation Chair in Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University, to offer 200 recipes that contain foods and nutrients that support brain health and cognitive function.

If aging well is you goal, here are important factors to focus on:

Balanced Nutrition: Changes in nutrient needs are inevitable in old age. While older adults need fewer calories they must have enough nutrient-dense foods for stamina and immunity. Here’s what’s important: calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones, iron, and folic acid for energy, drinking water to avoid dehydration and constipation, and getting extra protein to prevent muscle loss. Focus on vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, lean proteins, and healthy fats. And reduce the amount of sugar, salt, and alcohol you consume to maintain a healthy weight.

Physical Activity: Regular exercise and balanced nutrition are associated with many health benefits for older adults: maintaining mobility and strength, supporting cardiovascular health, fighting diabetes, and aiding digestion. Regular physical activity also helps boost mental alertness and alleviates stress. In short, it’s more powerful than any drug could be.

Stress Management: Chronic stress can lead to inflammation and increase the risk of disease among older adults. Meditation, yoga, and whole foods and healthy nutrition can help manage stress, and enhance overall well-being for seniors. Taking on calming and stress-alleviating hobbies like music, art, and knitting can help.

Sadaf Hussain makes a korma with mushrooms that supports brain health

Nutrition for Longevity and Age-Related Diseases

Brain Health: The brain shrinks with age and aging causes changes to brain size, vasculature, and cognition. Diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are associated with aging and cognitive decline. It is estimated that by 2060, the number of Alzheimer’s cases will rise in the United States to almost 14 million, affecting minority populations the most. Research has shown that diet has a significant impact on how your brain ages. To combat age-related diseases and boost your brain health with food, incorporate more foods with dietary antioxidants. Some examples:

• Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and other berries are packed with antioxidants that can fight oxidative stress and arrest delay in memory loss.

• Leafy Greens: Collard greens, spinach, kale, cabbage, and other leafy greens are rich in vitamins and minerals that help in cognition, protect the brain from oxidative stress, and keep the body hydrated.

• Fatty Fish: The American Heart Association suggests having fish on the menu twice weekly. Choose fish like salmon, trout, and sardines; they are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation, support brain health, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Bone Health: Falls and fractures are common in old age so maintaining bone health is crucial to improving longevity. Depleting calcium reserves can lead to loss of bone density and muscle mass. Brittle bones, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis are concerns for the older population, especially for postmenopausal women as estrogen levels decline. Stiff joints can affect mobility and gait, and height will also diminish with the spine and trunk losing inches with age. So add the right foods with nutrients to help maintain bone density and strength:

• Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are rich in minerals like magnesium and phosphorus.

• Dairy or Dairy Alternatives: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and fortified plant-based milk provide calcium and vitamin D.

• Fruits & Vegetables: Once again, leafy greens come to the rescue with their calcium content. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli help our bodies fight oxidative stress. Mushrooms, and fruits like pomegranates and grapes, have antioxidants that help in building immunity and combating inflammation.

Heart Health: Cardiovascular health is critical for longevity. Cardiovascular aging is linked to lifestyle choices and poor metabolic health. High cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity can often be prevented through a healthy diet like the Mediterranean or Blue Zones Diet. Avoid trans-fats, processed and ultra-processed foods, and refined plant-based oils. To keep your heart beating right, adopt a healthy lifestyle and choose heart-healthy foods:

• Whole Grains: Barley, buckwheat, millet are high in fiber. Oats in moderation can be a great source of soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

• Fruits and Vegetables: The fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants in fruits and veggies help reduce inflammation and improve blood pressure.

Longevity and better health in older years is a combination of good mental health, regular physical activity and stress management. In addition, nutrition plays a significant role. It’s never too late to start on a path to a long, healthy life.

The Benefits

  • Nutrition that supports longevity
  • Foods that support physical and mental wellbeing in old age
  • Foods that can fight age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and osteoporosis.

About the Teacher

Sudha G Tilak

Sudha G Tilak

Sudha G Tilak is a journalist who has reported from India, Sri Lanka and the UK. She is based out of Gurgaon and is a writer, translator, editor of books on food and travel, and a vegetarian. She is committed to building culinary connections and initiating healthy conversations around the history and traditional wisdom around food.
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