How to Use Nutrition to Improve your health and Increase Longevity.
Optimal nutrition is a major determinant for healthy aging. What, when, and how we eat elicit key signals within the body. These signals positively influence lifespan by increasing mitochondrial function, tissue repair, immune optimization while simultaneously reducing inflammation and cell senescence – or the halting of cellular function and replication.
While nutrition recommendations should ultimately be personalized, we know that when constructing a diet with longevity in mind, nutrient-dense whole foods need to be the focal point, while also avoiding processed and packaged foods. Nutrient density refers to foods that naturally have high levels of various vitamins and minerals, sufficient fiber content, and phytonutrients relative to calories. Examples of nutrient-dense foods include a wide range of various vegetables, herbs, berries, seafood, free-range meats, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Phytonutrients found in plant foods have been found to reduce disease caused by oxidative stress otherwise recognized as modern chronic disease or “disease of aging populations” (cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.) (1). Nutrient-dense foods mitigate oxidative stress or cellular accumulation of free radicals, a known accelerator of aging. An imbalance or over-abundance of free radicals possess the ability to alter and damage DNA or worsen the function of the energy producing house of cells, known as mitochondria. Without efficient energy, this can lead to fatigue, reduction in physical activity, or a tendency to choose foods that are nutrient-poor (i.e., processed foods).
It’s not only about what you eat, but when you eat.
In addition to dietary content, we also need to consider the timing and frequency of meals. Recent research suggests meal timing can affect many physiological processes – a concept known as, “chrononutrition”. This represents the relationship between food intake and the various cycles found within the body. Cycles such as the circadian rhythm are responsible for the sleep/wake cycle, core body temperature, and importantly, the secretion of hormones involved in hunger and metabolism (leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and even thyroid hormone) (2,3). Disruptions in these cycles may occur due to food intake during times of rest and may contribute to disturbed blood sugar balance, disruptions in sleep, and further lead to poor nutrition choices throughout the day (increase intake of caffeine and processed foods).
When building habits for health and longevity strive to adopt consistent meal timings each day, and work to consume food within an 8-10 window. Aim to eat only during daylight hours, for example: if you wake up at 7 AM, consume your first meal/caffeine/caloric beverage 1 hour after rising at 8 AM, and consume your last bite of food/caloric drink by 6 PM. The app “my circadian clock”, can be a helpful tool in tracking this change.
Focusing on Nutrition can be on of your most powerful tools.
Although there are many contributors to the aging process, focusing on nutrition can be one of your most powerful tools. Consuming food is one of the most frequent activities we do. Every time we eat it is an opportunity to either provide nourishment and nutrients to support our cellular function and build healthy new tissue or conversely, create inflammation and challenge our homeostasis. Starting with these few principles you will be sure to notice the difference in your energy, health, and vitality – because after all – you really are what you eat!
- Liu, R. H. (2003). Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 78(3), 517S-520S.
- Jakubowicz, D., Barnea, M., Wainstein, J., & Froy, O. (2013). High caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity, 21(12), 2504-2512.
- Scheer, F. A., Hilton, M. F., Mantzoros, C. S., & Shea, S. A. (2009). Adverse metabolic and cardiovascular consequences of circadian misalignment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(11), 4453–4458.