The Scientific Links Between What’s on Your Fork and How You Age
When you think about aging well and staying youthful, nutrition should be the first thing that comes to mind.
This isn’t a shocker, but we aren’t aging so well these days. We’re living longer but we’re not living those extra years healthier. In fact, with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases literally exploding in the last 20 years, it can make our later years brutal!
As you’re reading this, you might think “old age” is so far away and it isn’t something I need to be worried about right now.
To you, I say that time passes quicker than you can believe.
Every choice you make today – what you eat, if you take the time to go for a walk, or even get more sleep – can impact your body for better or worse hours, days, weeks, or even decades down the line. It’s never too early to slow down the aging process!
If you’re over 40 (or over 80) and you want to stay active, keep your mental abilities sharp, and smile at yourself when you look in the mirror - you have to make what’s on your plate a priority.
This one positive change will make all the difference in how you age!
The sooner you start, the better you’re going to feel.
In an article that appeared in Forbes, Dr. JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained it perfectly. “Healthy aging and prevention are about more than extending life span and preventing onset of chronic disease. They’re about improving physical function, cognitive status, and quality of life".
Reducing disease risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia are happy side effects.
A big part of how we look, how we feel, and how our brains function (proven by thousands of studies by scientists around the world) is what we’re eating.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve eaten the Western Diet (also referred to as the Standard American Diet) at some level over the course of your life. It’s been the source of much debate in the past two decades, for good reason.
The Pursuit of Profit: Faster Food and Rising Hospital Bills
Food manufacturers in the United States were at the forefront of making more food, getting it done faster, and doing it cheaper than anyone thought possible.
For all three – more, faster, cheaper – to be achieved, the food industry had to make some choices. In almost every case, no matter the product or who makes it, the choice to cut quality for profit was made and continues today.
Over the past five decades, the American food industry has dominated the planet in “fun” foods that taste great and don’t cost much. What they create is available at every gas station, the shelves of big box stores, online, in vending machines, and through take-out windows.
How you age and your diet are usually viewed as two separate concepts but they’re so much more connected that you may realize. Nutrition affects how you age. Our diet is accelerating how fast your body is getting older.
That’s not a theory – it’s a fact.
The National Institute on Aging clearly states, “Choosing healthy foods is a smart thing to do – no matter how old you are! Healthy eating can help prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems in older adults, and keep these problems from getting worse.” 
Rapid Aging, Poor Health, and Fixing What’s Broken
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the issues surrounding nutrition and healthy aging to be a global challenge. They outline several key points in their essay:
“Many of the diseases suffered by older persons are the result of dietary factors, some of which have been operating since infancy. These factors are then compounded by changes that naturally occur with the aging process. Risk factors such as increased blood pressure, blood lipids, and glucose intolerance are significantly affected by dietary factors. Degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer (among the most common diseases affecting older persons) are all diet-affected.”
In other words, you don’t lose control of your eating habits or health overnight. For a great many people, it’s a lifetime of poor eating choices. They won’t be repaired overnight. Changes take time, but they will happen, and you will feel them if you stick with it.
Maybe your personal weakness is drive-thru restaurants. Perhaps you just love the convenience of pre-prepared foods in your local market (and they create new ones all the time!) It could be a prevalence of snack foods, sodas, or so-called “diet” products. Or you could be one of the millions who get the biggest part of their nutrients through coffee (fancy types or from your kitchen). 
These are some big hurdles to overcome. If any of these (or others I haven’t listed) are part of your daily routine, they can be hard to quit – and that’s not even considering excess alcohol consumption, substance abuse, or tobacco use.
I’m sure you’re a little worried about the changes you’ll need to make, but don’t think that you’re supposed to change everything all at once if you want to improve your health.
A quick Google search can get you caught up in endless links about how to exercise or eat. A checkup at your doctor’s office can end with a substantial task list to quit smoking, limit alcohol, avoid sugar, decrease your carbs, add more fruits and vegetables, drink half a gallon of water every day, sleep eight hours a night, get rid of your stress, and it goes on and on.
It might be healthy but it’s not realistic.
Sure, if you already have many of those good habits, it’s possible. There are some people who can simply “put their minds” to things and seem to make it happen with ease. Quitting smoking cold turkey, deciding to run a marathon having never run before, or being one of those people (it’s like spotting a unicorn) who always seems to be completely stress-free.
Unfortunately, that’s not how most of the population of the world think or function.
If it was, we wouldn’t be in the health mess we’re currently in! According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 67% of American adults are overweight or obese (and around 17% of young people under the age of 19). [5,6,7]
The cases of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dementia, autoimmune disease, mental illness, chronic pain, and so much more have never been higher. We’re in bad shape as a species and “mind over matter” doesn’t seem to be working.
It’s critical to take all the things you “should” do and break them up into smaller goals you can manage. You’re less likely to become frustrated and have a greater probability of success.
To Slow the Clock - Use Your Fork
For now, we’re going to focus on food. When it comes to healthy aging, nutrition you provide your body (or deny it) wields a massive influence over your health right down to the cellular level.
Therefore, food is an excellent place to start!
In their “Healthy Eating Tips for Seniors” article, the National Council on Aging writes, “The definition of healthy eating does change a little as you age. Your metabolism slows down, so you need fewer calories than before. Your body also needs more of certain nutrients. It’s more important than ever to choose foods that give you the best nutritional value.” 
No matter your age or current health condition, food matters. Eating a variety of different foods is one way to get a good diversity of critical nutrition.
Consider your total nutrient requirements like a dinner plate.
Half of your plate should be various fruits and vegetables (mix up lots of different colors). A quarter of your plate should be good proteins (lean “complete” proteins have all the essential amino acids your body uses to produce protein). A quarter of your plate should be healthy fats (yes, you need fat) and complex carbohydrates (avoid the simple ones found in packaged foods and snacks – these are stripped of all nutrition).
Here’s a quick starter list to help slow down aging and reverse the damage done (good at every age)!
Best Fruits and Vegetables
- Berries (all of them)
- Leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, and greens)
- Tomatoes (even canned)
- Dry beans and peas
- Peppers, onions, garlic
Best Complete Proteins
- Dairy products
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
Best Complex Carbohydrates
- Yams and sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Pumpkin and other squash
Best Healthy Fats
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut)
- Nuts, nut butters, and seeds (chia and flax)
- Eggs (including the yolk)
- Red meat (grass-fed if possible)
- Coconut (oil, meat, or milk)
- Olive oil and olives
You’ll see that some foods fit in multiple groups and that’s a big help when you don’t have much of an appetite or may be living on a fixed income. Foods like eggs, sweet potatoes, and broccoli are readily available, inexpensive, and give your body pure fuel.
Good nutrition and healthy aging don’t have to cost you a fortune or create more stress!
Now there are some specific vitamins and minerals you need in your diet (particularly after the age of 40, 50, and beyond). If you’re not getting these in your meals – which is always the best and most efficient delivery method for your body to use – consider supplementing. 
Necessary Daily Vitamins & Minerals Mature People Need
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- B-complex which contains thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin, folic acid, and cobalamins (vitamin B12)
Being the best you possible doesn’t have to be something that takes up all your time, costs you a lot of money, or leaves you feeling deprived.
The power is in your hands and that should give you confidence in your success!
If you focus on this one area of your daily life, you’re going to be amazed at how much more satisfied you are after meals, how much more energy you have, and you may even feel that you can think more clearly.
Food that nourishes your vital organs, keeps your brain sharp, bones strong, skin supple, and eyes clear (rather than damaging them) is the first step to aging more slowly. There are many more and I’m going to write to you about them as well.
For now, happy eating!
- Forbes: New Studies Confirm Role of Diet in Healthy Aging
- National Institute on Aging: Healthy Eating
- World Health Organization: Nutrition for older persons
- Healthline: Science: Coffee Is the World's Biggest Source of Antioxidants
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (NIH): Overweight and Obesity Statistics
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Adult Obesity Facts
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Childhood Obesity Facts
- National Council on Aging: Healthy Eating Tips for Seniors
- National Institute on Aging: Vitamins and Minerals