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What to Eat to Protect Your Longevity Bank Account

Sue Stillman Linja and SeAnne Safaii-Waite are both are registered dietitians, and  have an enthusiastic interest in the effect of diet on chronic disease prevention.  See their recommendations below:

Eat a “Farmacy” of Colorful Vegetables

There is convincing evidence that increasing the consumption of vegetables can reduce the risk of developing these diseases. In fact some of the largest and longest studies say those who ate 5 or more servings of vegetables per day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. People with high blood pressure who follow a diet rich in colorful vegetables can reduce both their systolic and their diastolic blood pressure as much as medications can achieve.

“Genuine Foods” Eat Local Food that Comes from the Ground

We first heard the term “genuine foods” or “cibi genuini” from our 103 year old Sardinian friend, Dr. Antonio Cadoni.Through his own interpretation from Italian to English, he stated, “why would anyone choose to eat food that they didn’t know where it came from?” Dr. Cadoni was right. Over the last decade, there has been increased public concerns regarding food origin, agricultural production methods, and food safety which has changed the landscape of consumer purchasing decisions and contributed to the growing demand for local produce and products. Local food is better for you! The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food.

But did you know that local food preserves genetic diversity? Think about it. In modern agricultural systems plant varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen uniformly, withstand harvesting, survive packing and last a long time on the shelf, so there is limited genetic diversity in large-scale production. Smaller local farms, in contrast, often grow many different varieties of crops to provide a long harvest season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.

Eat Plant Based/Plant Focused Diets

To live a long and healthy life young people should consider recommending a plant-based diet (like the Mediterranean diet) to all of their patients, especially those with chronic disease risks. Another example where food is medicine.

But remember, a healthy, plant-based diet IS NOT a vegetarian diet.  It IS a diet where the majority of your plate is based around nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing the intake of and serving sizes of processed foods, oils, and animal products. Try to make ½ your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner.

Protecting the Body from Inflammation

Many major diseases that plague us, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis have been linked to chronic inflammation.  So what foods protect the body from inflammation?  Here come the plants again–vegetables, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. All vegetables are important in reducing cognitive decline, but leafy green vegetables show up in the research as being particularly protective. Additionally fatty fish, nuts and seeds and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can aid in reduction of inflammation.

Gut-Brain Axis

Many bacteria in the gut produce brain-altering substances that can influence the brain by controlling inflammation and hormone production.  A diet containing certain probiotics may reduce amyloidosis and inflammation. An altered microbe population in the gut has been observed in people with Alzheimer’s. Encouraging seniors to consume a daily serving of fermented foods that contain probiotics—Greek yogurt, buttermilk, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso and maybe a little red wine—may be in order.

Seniors are not often motivated to make major changes in their diets, but they do want to keep their minds sharp.  Diet histories can establish a baseline from which minor modifications can be encouraged to move their diets toward a Mediterranean way of eating.

Avoid the Western Diet

The Western Diet is made up of sugary drinks, fast foods, processed foods high in sugar, sodium and trans fats and they contain few antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  This way of eating promotes obesity, metabolic syndrome, cv disease and AD.  Some interesting research coming out of Oregon Health Sciences University with diets high in trans fats scoring lower on thinking and memory tests.