Looking for the Fountain of Youth? Here It Is!

By eating the right foods you can achieve optimal health and longevity.

Smiling Woman

Science tells us that what we call “aging” occurs with age, but not simply because of age.
The stiffening of the blood vessels and the decline of brain function associated with getting older are affected by what we eat and how much we exercise. If we follow the lifestyle habits associated with slower cardiovascular and brain aging, can we extend lifespan and healthspan? Advances in nutritional science have taught us that eating the right foods enables weight loss and helps to prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Consider  what happened to a patient of mine named Paul when he made radical changes to the way he eats.When he was 60 years old, he could not walk a city block without feeling pressure in his chest. Yet, as a gift to himself for his 68th birthday, he celebrated with a brisk run up and down the rolling hills of Central Park in New York City.  What enabled him to achieve such a feat?  As I like to say, the road to good health is as close as the end of your fork.

Paul decided to change his eating habits. He began eating primarily nutrient-rich, whole foods:  greens and other colorful vegetables, beans, fresh fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains. He minimized meat, eggs and dairy and eliminated added sugars, oils, white flour, white rice and processed foods.  In doing so, he reduced the number of calories he consumed while simultaneously increasing the amount of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals) and fiber he ingests.

I coined the word Nutritarian to describe this longevity-promoting style of eating, that is nutrient-dense and plant rich.. Paul usually ate a huge salad with raw onions and shredded cruciferous vegetables for lunch with a great tasting  nut-based dressing. He also ate beans or lentils in a vegetable-based soup or stew each day.

He included three fruits each day, making especially sure to eat berries, pomegranate, cherries, plums and oranges. He ate raw nuts and seeds to a meal, with a special emphasis on walnuts, hemp, flax and chia seeds, all of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. And he also made sure to eat a double-size serving of steamed greens at dinner, often adding  mushrooms and onions.

In other words, Paul did what I recommend all my patients do: He  designed his diet to provide  superior nutrient density. Though eating  nutrient-rich food is critically important, it is not the only factor that determines good health. For example, Vitamin D , vitamin B12, and proper omega-3 intake are important for optimal health, as well as  limiting sodium and high glycemic carbohydrates.

You may be surprised by how your body can heal itself  by simply eating right and getting exercise. You may also be amazed that your taste improves as you start to eat healthier, that you actually get more pleasure from eating and you can eat generous portions of great tasting healthy dishes.

  Some people would say that they could never give up the processed food they crave. But you need to know that rejecting these foods is a mere temporary loss. What you gain is what Paul found: his highest level of energy and good health he ever had. If he was searching for the Fountain of Youth, he certainly found it. As he told people who asked him how he felt on his 68th birthday, “I honestly feel – no joking, no exaggeration – that I am only at the halfway point of my life.”  The facts are the same dietary portfolio that protects your heart also protects your brain from aging and prevents cancer.

We now know a lot about the factors associated with longevity. We know about the diets of societies with a documented long lifespan, such as the Okinawans of Japan and the Seventh-Day Adventists of California. We have evidence that accumulated oxidative stress drives aging, and we know which dietary factors help the body to mitigate oxidative stress. We can now measure the telomere length of circulating white blood cells – telomere shortening is an indicator of aging – and we are learning which dietary factors and behaviors influence telomere length. Studies of calorie restriction in animals have given us information about the cellular signaling pathways associated with longevity, and we can turn on those same genes and signaling pathways with our dietary and lifestyle habits.

This wealth of scientific information has allowed us to design dietary patterns for longevity.  Go for it!


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