This article is taken from our newly released Issue 6 of our magazine. Issues 1 to 5 are also available through the App store and Google Play store. Please subscribe to the Great Health Guide magazine – (subscription FREE for limited time only).
How Nutrition Can Slow The Effects of Aging written by Gauri Yardi
At some point in our lives, usually in our 30’s or 40’s, we suddenly realise that we are not invincible. Common triggers for this realisation include the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on our faces, a 40th birthday, a high blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office, or a family member’s battle with chronic disease. Regardless of the trigger, at some stage, we all realise that there is no denying it – we are ageing.
When it comes to ageing, Western society has an attitude problem. We view ageing as a ‘bad’ thing – old age is bad and youth is good. Conversation around ageing tends to focus on appearance and superficial solutions: slap on some anti-ageing cream, dye away your greys, get or stay thin, perhaps even consider cosmetic surgery. We are so mesmerised by this cultural message that we rarely stop to think about what ageing actually is.
‘Ageing’ describes the changes your body undergoes over your lifetime. It is a reflection of the experiences you have had and of the life you have had. Ageing is an ongoing process. We begin ageing the day we are born and we continue for the rest of our lives. It is not something that starts with our first grey hair; rather, it is something that is happening all the time; it is a natural process.
Healthy ageing involves nourishing your brain and body to preserve their function throughout your lifetime. Your body and your brain are the vehicles that allow you to move through the world, live your life and achieve your goals. If you want to live well, you need to keep your body functioning well and because ageing is a constant process it’s never too early to begin.
The best way to begin is with your diet. Here are three changes that you can make to your diet to help your body and brain age well.
1. Ditch the Western diet
In an effort to determine the type of diet most likely to promote healthy ageing, researchers have focused on reducing the risk of common chronic diseases associated with ageing. These diseases include cardiovascular disease, dementia and diabetes. The so-called ‘Western diet’, a diet high in sugary foods and drinks, red meat, processed meat and refined grains, is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. People who eat a ‘Western diet’ during adolescence or adulthood may be more likely to develop these conditions when they are middle-aged or elderly.
If your diet is high in sugar, fats and meat, it may benefit you to shift towards a more healthier, wholefoods-based diet. It’s not too late to start.
2. Eat mostly plants
Researchers have found that the risk of dementia and cardio metabolic disease (cardiovascular disease and diabetes) is reduced in certain geographical regions. The people of Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) and people who adhere to a ‘Mediterranean diet’, seem to enjoy better health as they age. Researchers examined the diets of these diverse populations to determine what they have in common. The conclusion: all of these groups eat plant-based diets which are high in fruit, vegetables, legumes (including nuts), whole grains, fish and potato and low in meat.
An almost entirely plant-based diet, i.e. a vegetarian diet, is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers and all-cause mortality. This is, in part, because of the link between eating a vegetarian diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Studies suggest that as the consumption of meat and animal products increases, the body mass index (BMI) increases.
If you’re not ready to go fully vegetarian, try and limit your meat intake to one serving per day and consider going without for one day a week. Make sure that you include plenty of legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas or kidney beans), tofu or other vegetarian protein sources in your meat-free meals.
3. Go with your gut
There are 100 trillion bacteria living in your gut. In fact, there are more bacterial cells in your body than there are human cells. Your gut bacteria help you to digest your food, improve your immune function, reduce inflammation, reduce cholesterol and may even reduce your risk of chronic disease. Disruptions to the bacterial balance have been associated with increased systemic inflammation and risk of chronic disease.
Gut bacteria can be disrupted by a variety of factors, many of them dietary. The ‘Western diet’ is associated with a reduction in the diversity of gut bacteria and an increase in ‘bad’ bacteria. Bad bacteria produce toxins such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS). LPS produced in the gut are associated with systemic inflammation and may predispose a person to weight gain, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
Looking after your gut bacteria can be as simple as eating a plant-based diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. The fibre found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains acts as food for your beneficial bacteria, helping them flourish. In turn, the chemicals they produce may improve your long-term health.
These three guidelines are a great starting point for reducing your risk of chronic disease. Personalised dietary guidelines, however, are more effective than general guidelines, as they take into account your individual likes and dislikes, tolerances and intolerances and your lifestyle. If you are interested in healthy ageing, it may benefit you to consult a practitioner who can help you determine the right diet for you.
1. Kiefte-de Jong JC, Mathers JC, Franco OH (2014), Nutrition and healthy ageing: the key ingredients, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, vol. 73, no. 2, pp. 249-259
2. Kouris-Blazos, A & Itsiopoulos C (2014), Low all-cause mortality despite high cardiovascular risk in elderly Greek-born Australians: attenuating potential of diet?, Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 532-544
3. Sabate J & Wien M (2015), A perspective on vegetarian dietary patterns and risk of metabolic syndrome, British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 113, Suppl 2, pp. S136-S143
Author of this article:
Gauri Yardi is a Naturopath with a special interest in treating stress and anxiety, digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, reflux and skin conditions such as acne and eczema. She is passionate about helping people shift towards a diet and lifestyle that will support and nourish them long-term. Gauri can be contacted through her website.