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 aging 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 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.
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.
A tablespoon of oil just adds 120 calories without much nutritional benefit. Instead, try this nutritious Lemon Tahini Dressing on salads, steamed greens and broccoli, and baked potatoes! Use 1/2 cup each of tahini sesame seed butter) and water; plus 1/4 cup each of lemon or lime juice and of tamari or soy sauce; plus 2 cloves of garlic, chopped. Put everything in a blender and process for 30 seconds or until smooth.
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 stressful; 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 Vancouver Registered Dietitian and co-author of award-winning books that are classics in plant-based nutrition. She’s 80 years old and enjoying writing (with a new book on plant protein to come out in spring 2023), consulting for individuals and the government, and keeping fir (with a mini-triathlon to her credit this fall.) 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