Healthiest Foods for Longevity – From Genes to Greens!
May 5, 2019
“Live long and prosper.” – a movie quote all too famous. It speaks to our inner nature, conveying basic human desire. Today, we look the the healthiest foods for longevity, and see what has fueled those who’ve stayed true to the saying!
There are healthy foods and unhealthy foods in this world. The benefits of eating healthily are endless, and promoting long life is well-established amongst them.
Today we will be taking a look at the Healthiest Foods For Longevity, and I will be explaining about different genes and foods, and why each item has its properties as we go through the list.
This is a long post, but I’ve tried to keep it easy to digest. Grab your lab coat, set a timer for a few short minutes, and lets get technical (and have some fun)!
Since the dawn of mankind, humans have been trying to surpass boundaries and discover that which is beyond our physical reality. As such, trying to overcome mortality is nothing new to our species. And, whilst we know no such way, the ancients weren’t so far off when they ascribed such an ability to certain food sources.
Now, I’m certainly not going to be telling you that eating these foods will make you live forever – (they won’t). But, there are certain foods which have been shown to promote longer life, and to combine them with a healthy lifestyle can definitely increase one’s chances of living healthier and longer.
FOXO3 Gene Activators – Increasing Potential
The Okinawans are the champions of the world for long life. They inhabit a chain of islands in Southern Japan – a place often called the “Hawaii of Japan”. Of all the people in the world, the Okinawans have one of the highest life expectancies and percentages of centenarians.
This is largely thought to be due to genetic wealth and diet, and their relation. Certain foods abundant in the Okinawan diet are thought to enhance the expression and activation of particular genes that can promote long and healthy life. One of these genes is known as the protective version of FOXO3.
‘Forkhead Box 3’ (FOXO3) is a human genetic protein and is one of four FOXO genes present in mammals. In vitro tests have consistently demonstrated the gene’s ability to prolong lifespan. Research has also shown that those with the “protective version” of the gene have up to a 1.5x higher chance of living to the age of 1001.
FOXO3 is associated with many crucial biological and cellular functions, including stress and oxidation management, metabolism, inflammation, immunity, apoptosis (cell death), protein regulation, and supporting stem cells.
The so-called protective version of the gene can be inherited, or activated or “switched on” through diet. What this means is that for those who are not born with it, its effects can still be expressed by activating it with the right foods.
There are multiple FOXO3 gene activators that have been identified.
These can be considered some of the healthiest foods for longevity. Fortunately most people could easily incorporate these into their diet. Some of these will be covered throughout this article, but here are a few extra of these Healthiest Foods for Longevity:
- Curcumin – This is the active ingredient found in turmeric (an extremely powerful root) and is one of the healthiest substances known. Its benefits are far too many to talk about here, and are partly due to its activation of the FOXO3 gene2. In order to make full use of its benefits, use a high-quality turmeric root or powder in cooking and for beverages such as tea or turmeric milk. Combine with black pepper to enable efficient absorption.
- Astaxanthin – Astaxanthin is a carotenoid related to the metabolism of vitamin A, and is responsible for the red colour of aquatic creatures such as shrimp and lobster. As you might expect, these foods are great sources of astaxanthin. So are algae, seaweeds, and other red sea fish such as salmon and trout. Astaxanthin has been shown to dramatically increase levels of the FOXO3 gene. One study3 conducted on mice even increased these levels by 90%!
- Green Tea – Firstly, there are MANY reasons why this may be linked to a longer life. For the sake of this article however, we will only cover one. EGCG (Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate) is an active compound found in green tea. It encourages the genetic expression ‘Estrogen Receptor alpha’ (ERα). As it happens, FOXO3 is an important regulator of this so-called ERα. An interesting study4 on EGCG’s beneficial effects on breast cancer caught on to this and examined it in detail. What they found was that the effects of EGCG lead to a considerable increase the FOXO3 gene’s expression!
SIRT1 (Sir2) Genetic Activation and Increased Life Expectancy
SIRT1 stands for ‘Sirtuin 1’. These Sirtuins are enzymes that were first identified in the yeasts over 10 years ago! And, they have a strong association with increased health and lifespan. Their function within the body is mostly as a regulator for metabolism throughout the body and in multiple tissue types including the liver, brain, and adipose tissue. However, they play other important roles.
Now, SIRT1 activation has most extensively been studied in relation to caloric restriction. However, that is a different matter entirely to what I would like to to address here. Maybe another time 😉
A polyphenol known as resveratrol is an antioxidant present mostly in grapes, berries (highly in mulberries), cacao, and peanuts. It has been related to multiple health benefits including preventing cancer and heart disease.
It has also become an excuse for many to enjoy a glass of red wine now and then!
Additionally, it has been studied in its relation to SIRT1 activity increase. However, its benefits and its effects on SIRT1 is not yet fully understood and may be controversial, as this Harvard study indicated.
On the other hand, this is a lesser known polyphenol that is related to resveratrol. It is thought to have more potent beneficial effects and its effects on SIRT1 appeared to be more supported. Research has reported multiple health benefits that I will likely cover in another post in the future. A multi-departmental study conducted in China found that pterostilbene actually managed to activate the SIRT1-FOXO1 genetic pathway, thus demonstrating SIRT1 activity increase..
Sources of pterostilbene include mostly almonds and grape/vine leaves. Supplementation is available, but natural food sources for nutrition are always the best option whenever possible. A side effect associated with high dosage of pterostilbene may be high cholesterol. A confirmed generally safe dosage is considered to be up to 250 milligrams per day. Higher amounts are available, but before making any major dietary or supplementary changes always seek the advice of a medical professional.
If you read my last post, you’ll be well aware of the wonderful health effects of mushrooms and the potential they have to increase longevity.
There are many kinds of mushrooms available within the supermarket and in health food stores and online. Let’s get one thing straight. They are all great for you (as long as you’re not eating a poisonous kind – don’t forage for your own unless trained by an expert, and only buy from trusted sources).
From the white button to the famous Japanese shiitake, mushrooms are packed with nutrition. This includes B vitamins, selenium, copper, potassium, and a host of beneficial fibres and antioxidants which may increase heart health, boost the immune system, fight cancer, and greatly reduce inflammation. Those are just a few examples of their amazing benefits. And with all the great things they can do for us, it is no wonder that they are associated with increased longevity.
Mushrooms protect us right into old age and have been used to treat many illnesses. Even the ancients used them to promote long life (well, immortality in Egypt!) and they have been important additions to traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. This list of the Healthiest Foods for Longevity would be missing something fundamental without mushrooms!
Healthy Fats and Oils
Some of the healthiest foods for longevity include beneficial fats. These include equally important saturated and unsaturated fats.
- Unsaturated fats and oils such as avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil.
- Saturated fats such as butter, ghee, lard, tarrow, and other animal fats.
Yes, we NEED saturated fats and the notion that they’re bad for us is completely outdated and has been disproven many times by lipid scientists. Saturated fats are essential for many biological processes including promoting healthy HDL:LDL cholesterol levels and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K. I will most likely write multiple posts on this matter, but for now know not to be afraid of them. Just follow a balanced and varied diet which includes these essential nutrients 🙂
Olive oil is known to be great for us in many ways including promoting heart health, aiding the management of diabetes, and reducing inflammation. I went into detail on the benefits of this ‘Mediterranean Gold’ in this post if you’re interested. Also Extra-Virgin Olive Oil contains Hydroxytyrosol, which can activate FOXO3!
Coconut oil also has many benefits which are backed up by research.
It constitutes mostly of fatty acids known as ‘medium-chain triglycerides’, which have been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat burning, making coconut oil useful for those trying to lose weight.
These same medium-chain triglycerides are metabolised in the liver into ketones, and these are brilliant for brain function, and ongoing (order not yet entirely conclusive) research seems to suggest that coconut oil could even benefit those with Alzheimer’s.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Something I really want to talk about here is the healthy fats found in fish. Fish are awesome! If you don’t like fish, a) I don’t believe you, and b) you should probably learn to (unless you’re vegetarian or vegan, then fair enough)! Most people have probably heard about omega-3 fatty acids at some point or another, and probably that they are good for your brain and fish are a good source. That’s true.
The best sources of omega-3 are oily/fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines, herring, and other seafood such as oysters, shrimp, and mussels. Fortunately there are also plant sources such as seaweed and algae, walnuts, and seeds such as chia, hemp, and flax. These aren’t the same kind of bioavailable Omega-3s found in animal sources, and aren’t as rich in Omega-3s, but the RDI can be met by eating these.
These essential fatty acids aren’t just good for the brain. They can also effectively fight inflammation, boost heart health, strengthen the skeletal system, and improve sleep!
When it comes to eating fats and oils healthily, there are a few things to know:
Extra Virgin Oils are great for us, but Virgin should be used for most cooking, and Refined if deep-frying. This prevents oxidation (distortion) of the healthy and natural fats in the oils.
The kinds of fats that you really need to avoid are vegetable oils, including canola, soy, sunflower, rapeseed, and butter substitutes such as margarine. These fats and oils are already extremely distorted (and harmful) due to the extraction processes (even expeller-pressed, etc.) and are prone to high levels of oxidation. They release free radicals in our body and are bad for heart health. Margarines (even “trans-free” spreads) are full of distorted fatty acids, and harmful carcinogens. All of these unhealthy fats are bad for us in many ways. For example, eating them may even impair bone growth and reduce healthy cholesterol and increase the risk of chronic disease.
Eat Your Greens!
I know, I know… We’ve probably all heard this growing up! BUT, it’s for a good reason. And hey, there is absolutely nothing boring about vegetables!
“Greens” – specifically dark and leafy vegetables contain a host of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. The chlorophyll in these (which give them their dark green colours) can even prevent cancer such as by blocking carcinogens.
Healthy Green Vegetables Include:
If there are to be “superfoods”, nutritionally speaking, no list is complete without broccoli.
I mean, just look at the nutritional label as an example…
Including both raw and cooked broccoli into your diet is an ideal choice for optimum nutrient intake. Click here to take a look at the healthiest ways to eat broccoli.
The nutrients found in broccoli are essential for many natural functions and as such can keep us working properly into old age and beyond.
Some of the best-known benefits of this vegetable include promoting healthy bowel movements and aiding in digestion. This is due to the fibre content of broccoli.
Both soluble and insoluble fibre may help to regulate digestion and act as prebiotics to maintain the healthy bacteria in the intestines.
It is also rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols that – along with vitamin C and minerals like copper play vital roles in reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system. As you’d expect, this can help to prevent many conditions and illnesses.
This cruciferous veggie stands out as another “detox food”, aiding to cleanse the kidneys and the body.
This study conducted in Japan has shown that broccoli sprouts encourage the expression and activation of specific genes and enzymes that possess these detoxifying qualities.
Broccoli excels in Vitamin K content, which is required for proper blood-clotting, bone health, and calcium absorption.
Fun Fact: Dandelion shares many of these qualities! Here are 8 Awesome Benefits of This Backyard Green.
This leafy green boasts a high iron content, making it good for those who may have lower levels or don’t get much from other foods such as red meat, offal, or legumes.
Healthy iron levels are essential for the production of hemoglobin. This lets us deliver oxygen throughout the body through red blood cells.
Spinach also shares multiple benefits with broccoli and is a good plant source of vitamin K, calcium, and Vitamin A carotenoids. (These carotenoids are best if we consume vitamin C to increase bioavailability).
For these reasons, spinach may be good for combating macular degeneration and for improving the health of our bones.
Here are some more easily available healthy greens:
- Cabbage – Great for sauerkraut, kimchi, and stews!
- Kale – Everyone’s heard of this one for health! Add it to salads, stir-fries, rice, you name it…
- Lettuce – Brilliant for salads!
- Pak choi (or Bok Choy if that’s your preference!) – A type of Chinese cabbage that pairs well with asian cuisine and oriental-style dishes, salads, and much more!
- Chard – Due to its light texture, Chard works well with most recipes and especially curries.
“Greens” really are some of the Healthiest Foods for Longevity! And I’m sure you’ll think so too now! Our parents do sometimes give good advice after all 😉
Bone Broth – The Anti-Ageing Serum!
Bone broth has been a traditional part of human cuisine for thousands of years. Without a doubt, it is one of the best additions you can possibly make to your diet.
It is a versatile ingredient which can be used in many dishes. Otherwise, it can simply be enjoyed on its own as a hot beverage (that’s how I have it)!
I can tell you that Bone Broth deserves multiple posts of its own on here, and it will certainly receive them! However, for now I will cover in part why it is brilliant for promoting longevity and preventing ageing.
First of all, it is amazing for the health of the collagen which is found in our ligaments, tendons, and on the ends of our bones, and the elastin found throughout our body and in our skin, arteries, ligaments, and lungs. Collagens are a large group of extra-cellular proteins that are essential for holding every part of the body together. And elastin is the type of collagen that gives skin its stretchy properties, and lungs and ligaments their elastic abilities to stretch and rebound.
Already, you can see how important these are to our health. Unfortunately, as we age, these naturally decrease. This is what causes age-related wrinkles and other problems such as arthritis for some. Elastin is extremely complicated to produce and as such is made mostly in our lives during times of growth such as during prenatal stages, adolescence, and puberty. For this reason, it is important to get as much of its building blocks into your child’s or your diet whilst young to ensure a healthier and longer life.
There is good news for those who didn’t get as much when they were younger…
Because there is still a lot we can do to prevent its destruction and promote the health and production of other essential collagen types.
One of the best things you can do straight away is to avoid inflammatory foods such as unhealthy vegetable oils and sugar. There is something more fundamental and perhaps just as important, too. That is to provide your body with the essential building blocks of your bones and collagen. How can we achieve this, you ask? Why, by consuming traditional bone broth!
Examples of essential proteins and carbohydrates essential for health found in bone broth include Collagen, Glycosaminoglycans, Glycans, and Gelatin (collagen hydrolysate). Other important benefits of bone broth include encouraging probiotic bacteria and boosting bone and intestine health!
I highly recommend that you make your own broth using any leftover bones from cooking or from the butchers (or fishmongers), trying to use as many joint material and tendons and shiny cartilage as possible.
- There are many ways to make it that you can look up online and a slow cooker is perfect to use. I use mine all the time! Check out my post HERE with some great benefits of using a slow cooker, and some recommendations!
- Alternatively, you can buy a high-quality one such as Kettle & Fire.
Consume this powerful food/drink on a regular basis and drink a lot of water for the best effects.
Eggs (Yes, Eggs!)
Onto the final item of this list of the healthiest foods for longevity: Eggs!
Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They contain almost every trace nutrient required for the human body to function. Their high protein content is great for building a robust body (and muscles), and is also used to produce important hormones enzymes.
Not only that, but they are loaded with healthy vitamins, minerals, and some fats which are essential for heart health.
Ever heard that eggs are “brain food”? Maybe, maybe not… But they really are! They even made it into my food list article: “What Is The Best Food For Brain Health?”
The healthy fats found in eggs are useful for brain development and function, and eggs also contain an essential mineral known as choline which is used in the production of neurotransmitters and cell-signalling molecules. Without these, the brain simply couldn’t work!
Furthermore, they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which our brain needs in about equal amounts. In “standard” (i.e. caged hen’s) eggs, these two fatty acids are not balanced very well and omega-6 is particularly high, which can counteract the anti-inflammatory effects of eggs.
However, in omega-3 enriched or pastured eggs (free-range if you’re in the UK), the ratio is a lot more balanced and is beneficial. Not only that, but these eggs are much more naturally nutritionally rounded!
Eggs also contain other vitamins and minerals including carotenoids, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin. These are highly beneficial antioxidants for eye health and can prevent age-related eyesight problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. This is one of the ways in which eggs can protect us into old age and keep us functioning healthily.
There is a lot of unjust controversy about eggs due to their fat and cholesterol content.
(Often outdated) misinformation has lead many people to believe that the consumption of eggs is bad for us and negatively raises blood cholesterol levels, resulting in an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. If you are at a higher risk of these conditions (for example due to diabetes paired with an unhealthy diet*, or family history), then minimising or even eliminating egg consumption should be considered. The same goes for those with conditions such as familial hypercholesterolaemia or the ApoE4 gene. In roughly 30% of people, they may slightly raise healthy HDL cholesterol, but also LDL cholesterol levels. However, the effect they have on LDL cholesterol changes small and dense particles to large particles (which are better for us). Note that we need LDL, and that balance is required for good health. It is when levels are elevated that problems can arise.
*For those with Type 2 diabetes following a recommended low-carb and high-protein diet, eggs may improve blood lipid and glucose levels.
Fortunately, most people don’t need to minimise egg consumption as a necessary concern.
In fact, research has shown daily that consumption of up to 3 whole eggs has no unsafe effects. Whilst no evidence shows that even more is harmful, it has not yet been fully researched.
The majority of modern research has actually linked eggs to a reduced risk of developing heart disease and atherosclerosis. They also contain antioxidants which can protect the arteries from free radical damage. What’s more is that the omega-3s in pastured (free-range) or omega-3 enriched eggs can also benefit heart health.
A Long Post About Long Life…
We have covered a lot today, I know. And hopefully you will leave with some newfound knowledge about the foods that you can incorporate into your daily diet to boost your health, prevent illness, and promote longevity.
Anyway, that’s it for this article. It definitely is a particularly long post, but I hope I didn’t bore you too much! In fact, I very much enjoyed writing this, so do let me know if you enjoyed reading it! And if you have any suggestions please feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Have a great day!
Until the next one, stay healthy
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