healthy eating for healthy aging

Is there an “anti-aging” diet?

Is there an “anti-aging” diet?

Short answer: No.

Long answer

No one has defined what “anti-aging” might mean, let alone how to measure it. Does it mean you live forever? Or live decades without outward signs of aging (wrinkles, graying hair..) or inward signs of aging (joint pain, lack of energy, memory problems..)? Or that you maintain good health and quality of life until you pass the 100 year mark? the 110 year mark? How many years is enough?

A few wealthy techies have invested in anti-aging research, but their main focus is on drugs or other non-diet interventions. Metformin, widely prescribed for Type 2 diabetes, is currently touted as an anti-aging drug. There isn’t much data to back up that claim, but plenty of people are taking it for that purpose anyway.

Research isn’t focusing on diet alone, probably because diet research is messy. How do you force study subjects to follow one rigid diet for decades? Or take only certain supplements for decades? You don’t. Besides, the Big Money is in drugs, not a diet.

The only anti-aging diet strategy we do have is about calories. Animals on low calorie diets tend to live longer. So far the only research is on animals like mice, but some humans latched on to this idea, and follow rigid calorie-restricted diets in the hope of prolonging their lives. It seems like a joyless way to live, eating only a regimented and restricted diet. The extra few years you might gain could seem like a century.

Instead of a dreary diet of deprivation, why not just eat a modest amount of food? Let’s face it, we live in a food environment that normalizes excess. Just eating modestly seems like a radical idea in the face of giant portions.

Anti-Aging or Pro-Health?

Since we can’t (so far) turn back the clock on aging, a diet that promotes a long Health Span and quality of life is a more realistic goal. A Mediterranean style diet is the best choice to achieve that goal. There’s plenty of evidence to support that idea. Mediterranean style diets are linked to lower heart disease, lower all-cause mortality, lower rates of Alzheimer’s Disease and lower risk for many common cancers.

Anti-Aging Nutrition

While diet is important, I think research will eventually show that older adults need to supplement diet with certain nutrients. Appetite decreases with age, leading to lower overall food intake, which means lower nutrient intake. Digestion and absorption aren’t what they used to be, so even if you consume the recommended amount of a nutrient, you might not absorb it. At the moment, there is precious little research on this very significant concern.

By the way, all the anti-aging technological miracles and drugs in the world will not replace nutrition. You will still need all the nutritional building blocks for muscles, blood, digestion, brain function, energy metabolism, bone strength and the immune system. Whether or not you’re waiting for a tech break through, your best bet is to stick to a Sometimes Vegetarian/Mediterranean style diet, with modest portions, and stay physically active.

photos licensed by Adobe Stock photo library