Longevity Foods: Let's cut through the clutter
Big food levers to focus on. Nutrition doesn't have to be that complicated.
Welcome to Live Longer World - your go-to place for easily digestible writing on longevity science, with a focus on lifestyle actions you can be taking right now to live longer, healthier lives. If you are new, you can subscribe here.
In case you missed my previous post on how cold showers can boost longevity, you can find it here.
As I had mentioned previously, I am doing a series on how to live a “Longevity Lifestyle.” This includes simple and cheap science-backed practices that you can incorporate in your daily life to feel more energetic, slow aging, and improve your healthspan (number of healthy / disease free years you live). I personally practice these lifestyle actions that I will be discussing, so if you have any questions as you begin to implement them in your life, feel free to comment or reach out with questions.
Today’s post is on what is and is not part of a Longevity Diet!
Let’s Parse through the Clutter on Nutrition Content
I know there is a lot of debate in nutrition and there seems to be no trust in anyone advocating for any type of food because there are several opinions out there. However, I will argue that there is some objectivity around certain foods - I mean, a simple example is that everyone will agree that sugar and processed food is bad for you and eating more vegetables is good for you. I will go a step further and say that when it comes to longevity, there are certain foods within the “healthy foods” category that might add more value than others based on the science and data so far. I call these foods longevity foods and I’ve listed them below.
If you want to improve your diet and are trying to parse through the clutter that exists on food content, you can start with this list first and then if you wish to refine your diet further, you can do more research or message me for suggestions. If you want to be anal about your diet (like I am), you can refine it at the edges, but that’s for another day.
Highest-Impact Longevity Foods:
Cruciferous Vegetables: These include cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, broccoli sprouts, kale. They contain sulforophane which helps active the NRF-2 pathway responsible for 200 genes including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory genes and genes that inactivate harmful compounds that we may be exposed to on a daily basis. They are a big deal. I have an entire post dedicated to cruciferous vegetables here.
Avocados: Avocados are the best! There is a reason millennials shed so much money on avocado toasts - they are not only delicious but also great for longevity. They have NMN which raises NAD+ levels. NAD+ declines with aging, leading to a host of problems. If you’re interested to learn about NAD+, read more here. Okay, granted the NMN levels in avocados may not be high but they are rich in folate, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids and more. They also help reduce LDL-cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol). See the end of the post for a picture of my delicious keto / low-carb egg-avocado toast :)
Olive Oil: Is this the secret sauce to why Italy has the 4th highest average life expectancy in the world?? Perhaps. Olive oil can lower inflammation, blood glucose, cancer and cardiovascular risk! Extra virgin olive oil can also protect learning and memory.
Fyi, if you want to know a secret: I am part of On Deck’s first Longevity Biotech cohort and we had a recent chat with David Sinclair, (Harvard Professor pioneering the field of longevity) where he revealed how he has added more avocados and olive oil to his diet! That’s it, no more revelations for now!
Kale + Spinach: You’re probably living under a rock if you don’t know leafy greens are good for you. So I’m not going to harp on the benefits. Just know that kale is also a cruciferous food and spinach is rich in magnesium, vitamin K1, iron, calcium, fiber and folate. Both are good.
Berries: Berries can improve immune function and gut health in addition to being rich in other vitamins & fiber.
Fermented Food: Gut health is incredibly important as the gut can regulate cognition, immune system, mood, sleep, appetite, and more! A recent study found how a diet rich in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha increased diversity of healthy gut microbiota and led to decreased inflammation, which is linked to aging. I take 1-2 servings of kimchi or sauerkraut every day.
Walnuts: Walnuts protect against inflammation, they increase gut microbiome diversity, are high in Omega-6 and Oleic acid that activate sirtuins (SIRT 1), which help with DNA damage repair. I’ve written about sirtuins here.
Mushrooms: Mushrooms are a good source of fermentable fiber, they protect against cognitive impairment, and most importantly they protect the mitochondria from aging. (Another way to protect the mitochondria from aging is cold showers, which I wrote about last time.)
Meat or no meat? Sorry meat-lovers, but for longevity, too much meat is not that good unfortunately. Low-protein diets are actually one of the ways to activate your longevity pathways. Some meat on days you are exercising is probably fine, but otherwise you should get more of your protein from plant sources, if your goal is longevity. Btw, if you want to maximize protein absorption in your muscles, it’s better to eat more protein in the mornings, as compared to later in the day - here is a post on Instagram if you use it. I am personally vegetarian but I have nothing against meat - I’m just telling you what research says.
Turmeric + Garlic: Turmeric contains curcumin which is well-known for its anti-inflammation benefits and also protects against memory loss as we age. Garlic is rich in allicin, acts like a hormetic stressor (mild stresses that are good for you) and can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. I try to add turmeric and garlic to my food whenever I can!
And that’s it. Really. Start with this list and you will be doing quite well for yourself. Incorporate some of these foods in your diet and replace it with some of the other foods you eat and you will notice a significant improvement in how you feel. But, there are just a few other things to be mindful of in terms of supplements and what not to eat.
Most important supplements to take:
Vitamin D: Can’t overstate the importance of Vitamin D! Vitamin D protects against DNA damage, depression, accelerated rates of aging, possibly even COVID-19 and much more!
Omega-3 / Fish Oil: If you’re eating fish, you can get Fish Oil from your food. But it’s hard to eat fish everyday, so make sure to supplement on the days you don’t get it from food. Fish oil is important for cognitive functioning, fighting depression & anxiety, brain health, preventing cancer, fighting mental disorders, improving sleep etc. It’s extremely important. If you’re vegan, you could supplement with algae.
Zinc: Important for immunity, metabolism, DNA synthesis. I take it everyday.
Magnesium: Supplement, if you are not getting it from your leafy greens. If you eat your greens or almonds, you’re most likely fine. But of course, you could get your levels tested before supplementing.
The full list of supplements I take is here (it’s the most popular post so far so I assume people want to know). But listed above are the 4 most important ones I think everyone should be taking. If you want to know why micronutrient supplementation is important for long-term health, read here.
What Not to Eat:
Avoid sugar as much as you can. It’s worth giving up on the “fun in life” to not consume sugar. The fun comes to bite you not only in the long-term, but in the short-term as well! If you are using added sugar in your tea / coffee, or baking goods at home and want to add sugar, I have a better solution for you. Try allulose or stevia instead. I’ve written more here.
Avoiding sugar includes cakes, pastries, sugary beverages like coke, other soft drinks and even juice. Please eat the fruits instead of the juice. You’re mostly just getting sugar from juice without much of the benefits of the fruit itself. Watch out for sugar in products like cereal - read the nutrition label - if it has more than 10g. of added sugar per serving, it’s a red flag (I’d argue that even 10g. is a high number). Clearly, I care about wanting people to reduce their sugar consumption - it really is toxic!
Processed food like chips, cookies, biscuits, most Indian snacks. They are high in calories with no nutritional content and should be avoided.
Limit alcohol. An occasional glass of wine is fine, but alcohol disrupts sleep and again, is empty calories!
That’s really it. Nutrition doesn’t have to be that hard. Focus on the big levers first. Beyond what I’ve listed, whether you’re doing a ketogenic diet or eating more fruits or whole-grains, that’s all fine! Most people have a sense of the foods that are decently fine for health vs. others that are not, so use your judgement beyond what I’ve listed.
Just remember the basic principles I’ve laid out: certain health foods to eat, some supplements to take, and some foods to avoid and you will be doing great. Of course, as I said earlier, if you want to optimize your health further and be careful about everything you’re ingesting in your body, there are other factors to consider. I’m extra careful about everything I eat, but I understand that’s it too much for most people. This is why I wanted to break down the most important food items you can eat without caring too much about every detail. If you begin here, you will be doing great!
And also understand that it’s okay to have slip-ups. I have slip-ups too - specially around my menstrual cycle when I crave sweet foods as do a lot of other girls (sorry if it’s too much information for the men). Don’t aim for perfection but do the best you can. What you eat matters - after all you’re ingesting it into your body and it’s impacting your brain too! So definitely be more careful with your food, but don’t feel bad if you can’t optimize every aspect of it!
Hope this was helpful in cutting through all the noise that’s out there in terms of food and nutrition. If you think it added value, I’d love it if you could show some support and share the post with your friends and family and help them improve their diet too!
Also, what else do you want to know about longevity and longevity lifestyle? Tweet at me, message me or comment about what you want me to write about and what would be helpful to you. I have all this information in my head but I want to make sure it’s relevant for you as a reader.
To leave you all, here is a picture of my keto egg-avocado toast. I used keto bread from Unbun Foods - highly recommend!
If you want to make it more fun, post a picture of your longevity food and tag me (on Instagram or Twitter) and another friend or two in it. This way we can all hold each other accountable to eat healthier together! It’s the best way to start a healthy food movement. I’d love to see those delicious looking healthy foods! :)
Alright, stay in good health, and catch you next time!