March marks the beginning of National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign focused on expanding awareness and education, promoting informed dietary choices, and helping the population develop healthful eating and physical activity habits.
From a functional medicine perspective, nutrition plays a crucial role in overall health and can be leveraged as part of an integrated approach to prevent, manage, and treat diseases. Even slight changes in dietary habits can significantly benefit patient well-being, outcomes, and age-related disease risk. A recently published New York Times article outlined five nutrition-based tips that can be easily implemented to promote healthy aging.
5 Nutrition-Based Tips for Healthy Aging
1. Avoid Eating Processed Meat
Consuming high amounts of processed meats can increase exposure to noxious chemical compounds with harmful health effects. Processed meat is defined as meat that has been preserved by curing, salting, smoking, drying, or canning; this includes deli meats, sausages, bacon, and jerky.
Research has linked high consumption of processed meat with unhealthy lifestyle habits; smoking is more common among those who consume these products, and the intake of fruits and vegetables tends to be lower.
Furthermore, several chronic diseases have been frequently linked to processed meat consumption, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and bowel, stomach, and colon cancers. A 2019 Harvard review reported that eating just one serving a day of processed meats was associated with a 42% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 19% increased risk of diabetes, as well as a heightened risk of colon cancer.
2. Eat Blue and Other Dark Colors
Naturally colorful foods – generally fruits and vegetables – contain many vitamins and antioxidants working to protect the body from diseases while promoting overall health. Blue foods, in particular, are known as one of the most potent antioxidant-laden food groups. The pigment stems from anthocyanins, a class of antioxidants that combats oxidative stress, reducing long-term damage, decreasing inflammation, and extending the lifespan.
Blueberries are widely considered a superfood, low in calories but high in nutrients. Studies suggest that eating the equivalent of a cup of blueberries a day may significantly lower blood pressure, among many other health benefits.
Blue is not the only color of food to include in the diet for healthy aging; eating darkly colored fruits and vegetables, such as cherries, spinach, and kale, has also been associated with improved health.
3. Avoid Consuming Packaged Foods
Alongside processed meats, processed foods as a whole are a category to be avoided in healthy diet patterns. A good indicator of whether or not a food is processed can be its packaging; if a package has to be ripped open, it mainly contains foods that have been processed to preserve shelf-life. This can include chips, granola bars, fast foods, candy, and even seemingly “healthy” versions of these products. Some exceptions exist as certain whole, unprocessed foods come in similar packaging, including nuts, dairy, and olive oil.
4. Stick To The One Ingredient Rule
Single-ingredient products are the pinnacle of a healthy diet. Whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, naturally contain only one ingredient. However, packaged and processed foods contain a long list of additives and chemical substances. When shopping, search for products with only one ingredient, dried mango, without additional sugars, dyes, or artificial components. This method ensures there are no hidden ingredients – allergens, additives, and other harmful chemical compounds – with potentially detrimental health effects.
In addition, single-ingredient foods are rich in nutrients, low in sugar, and much more environmentally friendly than their alternatives. They have also been associated with improved skin health, blood glucose levels, and digestive health while also reducing the risk for heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other chronic conditions.
5. Be Mindful About Supplements
Despite a tremendous amount of research conducted over the past several decades, current scientific evidence concerning the health benefits of dietary supplements remains unclear. At present, most studies suggest that vitamin supplements do not contribute to increased lifespan, slow cognitive decline, or decrease the risk of disease. Furthermore, supplements are not always safe as federal regulation requirements are less strict than those for prescription drugs, and they may adversely interact with other medications.
Instead of investing in dietary supplements, opt for spending on fresh, whole, unprocessed foods and fitness to reap the wide-ranging benefits of healthful nutrition – including healthy aging and life extension.
Grow Your Knowledge of Functional Nutrition and Food-Based Strategies for Health!
To delve deeper into the power of nutrition, its ability to restore optimal health, and its clinical potential for the treatment of chronic disease, join us at the upcoming 30th Annual Spring Congress between April 29-30, 2022.