We know that laughing, moving, and sharing experiences with family and friends are all great for health and longevity. But what about food? Suppose you figured out what works for you, you have all the energy you need, and are generally healthy. Can you go a step further to make sure you can keep enjoying this life as long as possible?
Yes, there is quite a number of things you can try. Just keep in mind that these tweaks are most useful for people who already have their eating and health well managed. Otherwise it will be a wasted effort and more of a stressor than a helpful tool.
Oxidative stress is one of the biggest influencers of longevity. On one hand, it is a highly damaging process and our bodies do what they can to mitigate its impact. On the other hand the adaptations that happen as a result can help us live longer and be more resilient. And that’s where antioxidants come in. Among the most important are Vitamin E, Vitamin C, carotenoids and minerals (selenium, zinc, copper and iron) that serve as co-factors for anti-oxidative enzymes (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase or catalases). A lot of big words, but what does it actually mean for our everyday life?
Antioxidants are not just in chocolate, wine, and tea as the internet suggests, they are found abundantly in all plants, healthy animal fats, and various kinds of nuts. That’s why we should prioritize getting a wide variety or fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables daily. Along with high quality animal products, they are the densest anti-oxidant sources. My favorite antioxidant supplement is wild blueberries freshly picked along a mountain trail.
Optimized protein and fat intake
Less protein in a diet might be another oxidation-related way to a prolong one’s life. In particular, lower intake of the amino acid methionine reduces oxidative stress on mitochondria, which has been shown to increase longevity. On the other hand, higher protein intake increases strength and helps us sustain an active lifestyle. Especially in old age, retaining muscle mass is vital, so you need a good strategy to have the best of both worlds, and that is intermittency: High protein intake after workouts, low protein intake on rest days.
Oxidation also plays a big part when it comes to fats. Peroxidizability is zero for saturated fats and near zero for monounsaturated fats, but very high among polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). In practical terms, this means we should, ideally, get our fatty acids from sources like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, lard, butter or beef tallow, which are all pretty stable. Oils rich in PUFAs (especially soybean, grape-seed, corn or safflower) are unfortunately used very commonly in processed foods and fast-food meals. Yet another reason to steer clear of those.
Fasting is not a new thing; it was a very common part of our lives throughout our evolution. We are very well adapted for going days without food while not getting sick or too weak to hunt, defend or run away. In fact, our health relies on periods of not eating. It is most noticeable in a process called autophagy, which is up-regulated in times of starvation. This is a mechanism that destroys dysfunctional cellular components and intracellular pathogens and allows our bodies to use them as energy.
There is now compelling evidence suggesting that any method that induces autophagy, such as fasting, extends life span. The good news is that it does not have to be a major 40 day fast. Regular short fasts give us all the benefits of elevated autophagy without the downsides of long fasts. And that’s where intermittent fasting comes in. The basic idea is to reduce the time window in which we eat. The 16/8 version (fast 16 hours, eat 8 hours) is ideal because it is a short enough fast that you can do it daily but long enough to induce the desired increase of autophagy. You can start by trying it once a week and add more days if it feels comfortable.
Some people do the more extreme “one meal a day” or 23/1 version. Find what works for you, but remember that in general, healthful fasting should be easy and stress free. If it generates excessive hunger or signs of nutrient deprivation, such as dry mouth or eyes, irritability, anger, or anxiety, it should be terminated immediately.
Bluezones are places where people live the longest (Island Ikaria, Greece; City Loma Linda, California; Island Sardinia, Italy; Island Okinawa, Japan; region Nicoya, Costa Rica). Living to be 100 years old – while remaining reasonably healthy and happy – is not uncommon in these regions. In fact, it is 10x more likely than the average in the world today. So what can we learn from Bluezones when it comes to food? The eating habits of Bluezones‘ inhabitants were studied quite extensively, and despite the obvious differences based on location, some commonalities were observed. They can be distilled down to three sentences. Eat until 80% full. Eat more veggies, less meat and processed food. Drink a glass of red wine each day.