Longevity and Diet

by | Mar 17, 2022 | Nutrition, Tricia Williams

What would you say if I told you that the key to reducing chronic disease is by getting younger? You might be skeptical or feel confused on how exactly to do this, but research shows us that this is possible!

When I say getting younger, I’m really talking about biological age, which is different from how old you are, or chronological age. Chronological age is the number of years a person has been alive, where biological age is essentially how old a person appears to be based on various biomarkers.

Biological age does not increase at the same rate for everyone, as opposed to chronological age. So many factors influence our biological age including our diet, exercise, stress levels, lifestyle choices, and more.

One important biomarker for biological age is DNA methylation. This may be new to you, but it’s such a cool concept! Keep reading to learn more.

Methylation and Epigenetics: the Cliffs Notes

Epigenetics is the study of how the cells in our body control the activity of our genes, so essentially how these genes are expressed. Think of this analogy to help explain the topic a little bit more: Your genes essentially put the car in drive, but it is the epigenetics that puts your foot on the gas pedal.

One of the most important factors in gene expression is a simple body process called methylation. Methylation is just the passing of a tiny molecule called a methyl group between bigger molecules. When it’s passed on to a certain part of the DNA, it essentially turns on a gene.

The good news is, that there is so much we can do to impact DNA methylation through our diet, lifestyle choices like quality sleep, and supplement choices. We actually have the ability to turn on genes that may have been turned off, to help us reduce the risk of certain diseases.

So while the science of methylation and epigenetics gets complex, when we zoom out to see the big picture, it’s actually really simple: a healthy lifestyle makes us biologically younger.

Let’s take cancer as an example. We have tumor suppressor genes that do an amazing job in inhibiting cancer growth. Unfortunately, these genes can be turned off or silenced due to various factors including things like inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and oxidative stress. The same factors that make us biologically older.

What if I told you that there are some incredibly therapeutic foods that can help to turn the gene expression back on and support DNA methylation? Well fortunately, there are a lot!

high fiber

Foods to Increase Longevity

Ever wonder what makes blueberries blue or pomegranates red? The answer is an important compound made only by plants called, polyphenols. Polyphenols promote healthy methylation that turns on good genes. There are more than 8000 types of polyphenols, spanning the colors of the rainbow, but there are essentially 4 major groups:

  • Flavonoids: Likely the most studied group of polyphenols. There are more than 4000 varieties of flavonoids! Flavonoids include apples, dark chocolate, red cabbage, onions, berries, parsley, curcumin, citrus, legumes and so much more!
  • Phenolic acids: Found abundantly in food and include things like black radish, red fruits, and onions. Derivatives of cinnamic acid include coffee, berries, plums, cherries, and more!
  • Stilbenes: One example is resveratrol which is found in grapes, wine, blueberries, and blackberries. Resveratrol is one of the most powerful antioxidants there is!
  • Lignans: found in flax, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, oats, coffee, and more. Lignans can be especially impactful in regulating hormone health.
  • Fortunately, we have a way for you to get in a multitude of these polyphenols with our Rehab-28 program! We start the day with a turmeric drink which provides curcumin, and lots of plant foods like onions, spinach, root vegetables, cabbage, and red onion.

In addition to polyphenols, there are important nutrients that act as cofactors to DNA methylation that are important to consume. Some of these include choline, which is found predominantly in eggs (aim for 5-10 eggs a week if tolerated) folate, found in dark leafy greens, avocado, cruciferous veggies, B12-rich foods like grass-fed steak, poultry, and chicken, and foods rich in Vitamin B6 like fish, chickpeas, bananas, and squash.

Beans are another essential food in improving longevity. If we take a look at the blue zones, which are the regions of the world thought to have a high number of people who live longer than average, we see some common themes. These individuals eat lots of fruit and vegetables, they prioritize anti-inflammatory fats like omega 3’s from fatty fish and omega 9’s from olive oil, and they eat a lot of beans – about ½ cup daily. Beans are an essential part of the diet for the blue zones, and one study conducted found that eating 20 grams of beans daily reduced a person’s risk of dying any given year by 6%!

There are so many reasons why beans are so nutritious including their micronutrient profile. Beans contain a ton of vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and many b-vitamins. They are high in fiber, including soluble fiber which is so important for digestion, but also blood sugar regulation, and heart health. The prebiotic fiber in beans can truly shape the microbiome, and a healthy gut microbiome (link to part 2) is another important ingredient for a long and healthy life. While it’s common to fear legumes in many health circles, it’s time to update our perspective on these powerful sources of plant protein for their instructive nature on our cellular health, cardiometabolic health and clearly longevity too.

Tricia Williams

Tricia Williams is a talented Chef recognized as a leader in the fields of Nutrition and Holistic Health. Some years ago, Tricia founded Food Matters, a boutique, nutritionally-sound meal delivery service. Closely collaborating with her clients’ coaches, integrative physicians, and nutritionists, Tricia was able to successfully tailor meal plans that met both their taste preferences and their health goals.
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