Happy & healthy senior couple preparing a salad together.

Aging in Great Health!

Ageing in Great Health!
Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

Why do we age?

Getting older, and showing it, and feeling it, involves a buildup of toxic metabolites including reactive oxygen species, a form of free radicals, and AGEs (Advanced Glycation Endproducts). AGEs are harmful substances that form when protein or fat combines with sugar in the bloodstream. AGEs are implicated in diabetic complications, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and normal ageing. Having excess body fat makes us age faster.

How do we slow the ageing process?

One well-established way to slow ageing is moderate caloric restriction. This means eating slightly less than your caloric needs. This is not anorexia or fasting, it is known in Japan as Hara hachi bun me. A  Japanese (and Confucian) proverb states “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor”. Eating slightly less than we need lowers our temperature a little and slows our metabolic rate. (Note that the Japanese life expectancy is the second highest of the world’s 183 countries at 84.3 years. That’s 87.57 years for women and 81.47 years for men. Hong Kong ranks first at 85.1 years.)

Many plant foods provide protective substances that can reduce the formation of AGEs. A few examples are garlic, tomato paste, peanuts, green tea, mustard greens, and the isoflavones in soy foods. In fact, the wide range of colourful vegetables and fruits provides us with an army of protective phytochemicals—found only in plant foods.

Certain proteins in our bodies are linked with ageing and with cancer. There is a seesaw relationship between these proteins and so-called “longevity proteins” such as AMP Kinase. We now have some insights into how to elevate these longevity proteins. Our best bets are moderate caloric restriction, high exposure to phytochemicals, and exercise. Greens have a particular type of phytochemicals that slow ageing–especially cruciferous vegetables: kale, cabbage, baby bok choy, watercress, and arugula. These lifestyle choices help to lengthen our telomeres.

Would you like to prevent type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia? We need nutritional excellence, with all the essential protein (preferably from plant foods), minerals, and vitamins present. We need a diet rich in protective phytochemicals and antioxidants that can vanquish free radicals. Plus—it had better taste good! Nutritional excellence is a hundred times more therapeutic than drugs.

Moderate exercise has beneficial effects on a cellular level. With activity we increase longevity proteins and preserve bone mass. The greater oxygen demand strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles, making them more efficient. It helps blood flow to the brain. Too much exercise can be negative and a stress; moderate activity is just fine.

Avoid exposure to toxins (including glyphosate/Roundup) and alcohol.

Follow your doctor’s guidance, of course—but don’t simply treat disease symptoms or be satisfied with drugs as your major intervention. Get healthy instead! The result? You will get a longer lifespan, and one filled with abundant health and time to play and enjoy life.

Vesanto Melina is a Registered Dietitian and lead author of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ latest Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets, and co-author (with Brenda Davis) of award-winning books that are classics in plant-based nutrition. She is available for online consultations.  See her websites at https://nutrispeak.com and at https://becomingvegan.ca/


Fast Food Genocide by J Fuhrman, MD. Harper One Publ.

Peng X et al. Naturally occurring inhibitors against the formation of advanced glycation end-products. Food and Function, 2011, 2, 289-301. https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2011/fo/c1fo10034c

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