With no mention of collagen supplement smoothies.

By Betty Gold
November 13, 2020
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You can’t stop the chronological clock from ticking forward, but science is increasingly showing us that we can influence the pace—and in some cases, the direction—of the biological clock. Maintaining a healthy diet is one research-backed way we’re able to boost our longevity.

“In general, you can’t go wrong with the plant kingdom: fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains, herbs and spices, tea, and so on,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RDN, owner of Bazilian’s Health in San Diego. Just remember: it’s one thing to age ‘long’ and another to age ‘well’ with your years. “Most people who desire to live a long life actually want to live a long and healthy (vital, active, and well) life, rather than hitting a certain year-mark,” says Bazilian. File under words to live by.

Bazilian also reminds us to remain weary of wellness-centric food trends and too-good-to-be-true products that claim to turn back time on our bodies. “There are many foods—so called ‘superfoods’—that have nutritional prowess and also research to support their role in health promotion and disease prevention. To me, as a doctor of public health, registered dietitian, and certified exercise physiologist, that’s compelling, but it’s actually not enough.” Rather, Bazilian says that in order for a food to really make a difference in one’s health, you have to eat it regularly—that is, enough for it to make a difference. “You can’t just eat these foods once in a while (or a tiny portion for that matter) for them to have impact. It’s the regular, sometimes daily, inputs from these foods that make it have real impact on aging well, anti-aging, and longevity.”

In order to qualify as an anti-aging food, Bazilian says that—in addition to being nutrient dense and backed by research—it must be accessible, versatile, and appealing. With all of this in mind, here are the foods that really stand out in their ability to combat premature signs of aging

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Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and pack a ton of nutrition—antioxidant, anti-inflammatory—bang for their buck. Blueberries have received lots of research attention that shows impressive findings in the areas of promoting and preserving cognitive function (brain health) with age, promoting heart health, lowering your risk of certain cancers, and more, says Bazilian. “When you look at a blueberry, it’s phytonutrients are looking right back at you: the deep blue color comes from anthocyanin, a key phytochemical and antioxidant.” In addition to fighting aging-oxidation, the vitamin C in blueberries helps promote cellular protection and skin health as we age.

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Walnuts are a real multitasker when it comes to longevity. A new study just found that women who regularly consumed nuts, particularly walnuts, at midlife were more likely to age healthfully compared to those who didn’t eat nuts. (“Healthy aging” was defined as having no chronic diseases, reported memory impairment and physical disabilities, as well as having intact mental health after the age of 65.)

Walnuts also play an important role in heart health. “The first research on cardiovascular health and walnuts was published over 25 years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine, and since that time, there have been dozens and dozens of studies on heart health,” says Bazilian. A metanalysis of 26 trials on heart health has shown that walnuts help lower your total cholesterol (particularly LDL “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, help manage healthy blood pressure, and contain plenty of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Lastly, cognitive health is key to longevity: many studies now have demonstrated that walnuts and their synergistic nutrients and phytochemicals—the omega-3 fats, fiber, protein and polyphenols, plus other minerals and vitamins—may help delay the onset, slow the progress, and maintain cognitive health as we age. “This is a big anti-aging goal,” says Bazilian. “We want to live well as well as live long, and cognitive health is critical.”

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Indeed, the second most consumed beverage in the world next to water packs endless anti-aging benefits. Tea is hydrating and filled with the inflammation-fighting antioxidants known as phytochemicals (EGCG and other catechins, flavonoids, and theanine, to name a few). "According to the most comprehensive findings to date on tea consumption and heart disease, incorporating two to three eight-ounce cups of unsweetened green or black tea per day may lower risk of death from heart disease by about 8 to 12 percent,” explains Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, principal and CEO at the Think Healthy Group and an adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. “The research also found the aging population (65 years and up) may benefit the most, with each cup of tea potentially lowering the risk of death from heart disease by 10 percent.” Tea promotes heart health by lowering your overall cholesterol and triglycerides and may reduce blood pressure and fat absorption in the body, too. Incorporating unsweetened tea into one's daily diet is an easy approach to potentially improve life expectancy.

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Beans are one of few foods that straddle two food categories: carbs and protein. “They’re a major part of the Mediterranean diet, which is one the healthiest styles and prevalent in regions where people live long and well lives,” says Bazilian. “Legumes are a significant contributor of plant-based protein and have been shown to reduce risk of major chronic diseases and promote health and longevity. They’re filled with phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber that helps the heart and gut, blood sugar stability, certain cancers risk, healthy weight management, and more.”

Beans are extremely versatile. Kidney, black, red, fava, garbanzo, cannellini, or any other type are easy to add to soups, salads, stews, lasagna, or casseroles; you can also mash them with herbs and spices as a dip for vegetables. Even canned, so long as they’re low in sodium and rinsed (this removes 40 to 50 percent of the sodium), they’re easy to eat, inexpensive, and rich in nutrition. 

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“I like to think of herbs and spices as an anti-aging food group,” Bazilian says. “Their day job is to provide flavor, which is the number one factor driving food decisions, even before convenience and health. By making other nutritious and anti-aging foods taste delicious, they’re actually doing double-duty.” Basically, herbs and spices make healthy ingredients (like vegetables, fish, and plant-based protein sources) taste better—plus they help us reduce our salt and added sugar intake, which we need to limit and contribute to healthy aging and reduced inflammation. We’re seeing important research emerging on the phytochemical, anti-inflammatory, and other unique attributes of herbs and spices themselves, too. They’re also another prominent part of Mediterranean diet, which has the closest relationship with living long and living well.

A few of our favorites? Ginger (known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea effects), rosemary, cinnamon, turmeric (strong anti-inflammatory properties), and red pepper.

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In a recent study published in Neurology, the consumption of fruits, vegetables, tea, and wine had beneficial cognitive effects among participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project. But specifically, a higher dietary intake of the flavonols found in pears, leafy greens, broccoli, oranges, tomatoes, beans, olive oil, tea, and wine was associated with reduced risk for developing dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Also, according to Amy R. Kweller, MS, RD, the soft texture of ripe pears may ease consumption, and the high fiber content benefits gut, cardiovascular, and overall health as we age.

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