Ageing – are those aches, pains, wrinkles and memory problems really inevitable? Or just symptoms of a poor diet?

By Jasmin Lim

What you put on your plate may affect more than just your waistline. Your age is more than just a number, but a reflection of how you feel and look. We’ve all heard that a poor diet can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but did you know that it can also contribute to those nasty aches, pains, wrinkles and memory problems that we all associate with ageing? Food is responsible for not only our weight and how we feel, but also how we age. So basically, can you look and feel older because you’re eating crap? Absolutely!

Inflamation, aches and pains

Refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, additives and preservatives all cause inflammation, and essentially, ageing is basically a chronic inflammatory state. Research suggests that the foods we eat, combined with our stress levels and lifestyle contributes to aches and pain. Berries, turmeric, ginger, garlic and onions are all great anti-inflammatory foods, containing antioxidants and flavanoids that have been shown to reduce inflammation and protect your body from free radical damage, relieving some of the chronic pain associated with ageing such as achy joints and arthritis.

Avoiding the Brain Fog

Think your memory and concentration problems are a sign that you’re getting old? Think again. Research suggests that diets high in saturated fat (from sources such as red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese and cream) increase your risk of dementia and can impair concentration and memory. Additionally, anytime you eat something that comes out of a can, box, or package you are almost certainly eating more sugar, salt, saturated fat and food additives. MSG is a known neurotoxin that can be found in many processed foods, with some of the worst offenders including canned soups, salty snacks and instant noodles. MSG can cause brain fog and other brain-related symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, dizziness and depression. The human brain depends on good nutrition, specifically an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids to be healthy and function properly. To avoid that brain fog, incorporate plenty of DHA into your diet by choosing foods high in omega-3s such as walnuts, flaxseeds and hemp seeds. Leafy greens, berries, avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains are also packed full of brain cell protecting antioxidants – such as vitamin E, which may help protect neurons and nerve cells.

Oxidation and Antioxidants

Every cell in the body needs oxygen, but it is highly reactive and always looking to combine with other molecules. When it does, it produces unstable atoms called free radicals, which then steal electrons from other atoms. In a nutshell, this process of oxidative stress damages cell structure leading to wrinkles, fine lines and pigmentation. In our modern day urban environment, we are exposed to a vast number of toxins from the chemicals in our food, chemicals we put on our body, chemicals we clean our home with, and chemicals in the air we breathe - vastly increasing our exposure to cell damaging free radicals. Colourful foods such as leafy greens, green tea, grapes, berries, oranges, spices and cacao all contain a vast number of antioxidants, which give up an electron to bond with free radicals, thereby reducing our exposure to cell damaging oxidative stress.

Acidification

Every cell in the body works best when the fluid inside it is slightly alkaline. However, our modern day diet is full of acidic forming foods such as meat, coffee, dairy, eggs and sugar – resulting in an acidic overload. To neutralise this excess acid, our bodies pull alkalising calcium and magnesium from our bones, weakening them and potentially leading to osteoporosis, and alkalising iodine from soft tissue, negatively affecting the thyroid, leading to fatigue, depression, mental fog, weight gain and diabetes. Note that there is a big difference between acidic foods (such as lemons, oranges and vinegar) and acidic forming foods. You can reverse acidity by cutting back on acidic forming foods, and eating a predominantly alkaline diet – think leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. For a powerful alkalising start to your day drink lemon juice in warm water half an hour before eating.

Combating Wrinkles

Okay we lied. Ageing is inevitable, and you will get wrinkles… but this is a guide to looking 50 when you’re 60, 60 when you’re 70, and boogieing to a good beat when you’re 80. While wrinkles are inevitable, there is a growing body of research indicating that a nutritious diet is capable of promoting skin health and delaying extrinsic skin ageing. Collagen is responsible for keeping your skin firm and youthful. Eating too much sugar and processed carbohydrates can damage the collagen in your skin, and may be linked to accelerated skin ageing and the development of wrinkles. Conversely, it has been found that a diet rich in Vitamin A, C, D and E, as well as antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocophernols and flavonoids has beneficial effects on skin-ageing parameters – yet another reason to increase your uptake of fruits, veges, nuts and seeds.

The bottom line

All in all, if you want your mind and body to stay as young and fit as possible, for as long as possible, avoid anything highly processed. This means no potato chips, fries, doughnuts, pastries, bacon or pepperoni – so basically, if weird unrecognisable names and numbers feature on the ingredient list, avoid it. Conversely, eat wholefoods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are all excellent anti-ageing foods – and even better if they are organic! So basically, can you look and feel younger than you currently do by eating a predominantly plant-based wholefoods diet? Absolutely!

 

References

Agenda, A. P. P., Drugging, C., From, H. T. S. Y. C., & Pig, B. A. P. G. Keeping Your Brain, Mind and Body Healthy Into Old Age.Bengmark, S. (2009). Control of systemic inflammation and chronic disease–the use of turmeric and curcumenoids. Nutrigenomics and Proteonomics in Health and Disease. Food Factors and Gene Interaction, 161-180.

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Joseph, J., Cole, G., Head, E., & Ingram, D. (2009). Nutrition, brain aging, and neurodegeneration. The journal of neuroscience, 29(41), 12795-12801.

New, S. A., Robins, S. P., Campbell, M. K., Martin, J. C., Garton, M. J., Bolton-Smith, C., ... & Reid, D. M. (2000). Dietary influences on bone mass and bone metabolism: further evidence of a positive link between fruit and vegetable consumption and bone health?. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 71(1), 142-151.

Tucker, K. L., Hannan, M. T., & Kiel, D. P. (2001). The acid-base hypothesis: diet and bone in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. European journal of nutrition, 40(5), 231-237.

 

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