There are two main ways to provide the nutrients and the myriad of compounds that can help your body operate at its best and improve both lifespan and healthspan. One is to use supplements and the other is to do it via food in our diet.
Here, in the first of our three part series on direct action for longevity, we explore the foods you can incorporate into your diet to get those identified goodies that keep us healthy for longer. We will also include herbs here as food as they require little to no handling to be beneficial and can be consumed as a food. Some of this is known via human clinical trial while some may be a mix of anecdotal use or animal studies. In all cases we take a can’t hurt, might help, approach and will either call out or exclude anything showing any risk of harm.
It’s important to note that, while all care is taken, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information and you should consult your health care professional before making changes in your diet and lifestyle.
Mitochondria are organelles, basically, little functional units within cells, much like an organ is to our body. They provide power to our cells by delivering ATP to the cells and are thought to once be free-ranging bacteria. It is thought that the break down of mitochondrial function is one of, if not the main contributor to ageing.
So, what can we do to support mitochondria? Foods that include beneficial nutrients for mitochondria include:
- Dairy products, especially butter (although you may want to ensure they are fermented, heat-treated or otherwise cured), contain butyric acid.
- Some plant oils also contain butyric acid.
- Fibre can increase the butyrate production of gut bacteria. Specifically Inulin from artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions and asparagus; Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) from fruits and vegetables such as bananas, onion and garlic; Resistant starch from cooked rice, potatoes and green bananas; Pectin from apples, apricots, carrots, oranges and others; Oat Bran, Arabinoxylan, Guar gum, Arabinogalactan and Hi-maze.
- Chinese Skullcap from the mint family has been attributed to the reduction of gum inflammation, improvement of osteoarthritis and even anti-cancer properties.
- Salvia miltiorrhiza or red sage has been used for heart health in Chinese medicine for a long time and is generally considered safe.
- Green Tea contains polyphenols and catechins which act as antioxidants.
- Meat, fish, poultry and milk all contain beneficial nutrients including L-Carnitine, which is believed to support mitochondria among other things.
- Tumeric or Curcumin is purported to support many health functions including mitochondria.
- Fruits such as grapes, mangos, pears and oranges contain malic acid, as well as vegetables like rhubarb, celery and carrots, which is shown to help, and is used in beauty products for dry skin, wrinkles and acne.
- Grapes contain Resveratrol, you may have heard of this one as a justification for red wine being healthy for you. It is indeed high in grape skin, however, the bad news is, you’d need to drink up to 100 glasses of wine per day to get what you would out of a supplement. This is why we have a supplement guide. Sometimes we just cannot get enough out of our food for the effects we desire. Nonetheless, we’ve included it here as it is in grape skins.
- Apigenin found in many fruits and vegetables, yes, your mother was right, you should eat your fruit and veg! We’ve mentioned them here a few times already so far! Apigenin is an antioxidant and is found in fruits and vegetables such as parsley, onions, oranges, tea, chamomile, wheat sprouts and some seasonings.
- Niacin or B3 is found in a variety of foods. It’s essential for skin, heart, brain, gut and more. Many foods have been fortified with B3 in the western world. Foods such as meat, eggs, fish, dairy products, vegetables and whole grains are good sources of B3. It is also known as Nicotinamide and has several related molecules that are purported to support NAD+ and AMPK for mitochondrial health. Two forms of these are Nicotinimide Roboside and Nicotinamide Mononucleotide. Sources of NR include milk, whey protein and brewers yeast.
- PQQ is found in fermented soybean products, green soybeans, spinach, field mustard, tofu, green tea, green peppers, parsley and kiwi fruit.
- ALA or Alpha-Lipoic Acid is an Omega 3 found in plants such as spinach, broccoli, tomato, green pea, Brussel sprouts and rice bran (source). It’s also found in cow heart, spleen, brain and kidney. EPA and DHA are the other Omega 3’s mostly found in fish.
- Berberine is found in Barberry, Oregon Grape, Goldenseal and Chinese goldthread and, is commonly considered a metformin analogue and often used by those wishing to get the benefits of Metformin without the risks. It can help with insulin and glucose regulation and activates AMPK and can reduce cholesterol and more.
- Bitter Melon is rich in vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B3 and B9. It also contains potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. It also contains blood sugar lowering compounds.
- Gotu Kola is a herb used in the Tai-Chi tradition. Make sure you get an organic source as it’s quite good at drawing up heavy metals from soil. It can help with blood circulation.
- Gynostemma has long been used in traditional herbal medicine and can help with insulin sensitivity and activates AMPK. It also supports heart and liver health.
Autophagy and Senolytics
Put simply, autophagy is the process by which our cells do spring cleaning. Senolytics are molecules that help senescent cells to be discarded and recycled. Senescent cells are cells that are no longer healthily dividing via apoptosis.
Great, so what food can we eat to encourage this?
- Strawberries! Who doesn’t love strawberries? Well, the great news is they have the highest level of probably the best studied and most effective natural senolytic, Fisetin.(1)
- Quercetin is shown to be an effective senolytic and can be found in raspberries, black grapes, red onion, broccoli, red wine and black tea. (2)
- Tocotrienols are found in rice, wheat, barley, rye, oats and red palm oil. Tocotrienols are a member of the vitamin E family.
- Chaga mushroom helps prevent cells from becoming senescent.
- Broccoli and other vegetables in the brasicca family contain sulforaphane which is a powerful nrf2 activator.
There are many overlaps with the microbiome as it does have links to many facets of our health and nutrition. It makes sense right? This is where our food goes after we chew and swallow it and it gets broken down by the stomach. It’s where our body absorbs much of its nutrients. There are two main types of bacteria in the gut, firmicutes and Bacteroides and, you want a good balance of these two.
Prebiotics are foods that support the bacteria in our guts. They assist bacteria by providing the compounds and molecules they need to flourish. If we do not support our gut bacteria, no matter how many new ones we introduce, they simply won’t survive and be healthy. Fibre is the most effective prebiotic. Your gut bacteria use it in their process of generating subsequent compounds that our body needs.
Healthline describes the below list of foods to be high in fibre and great prebiotics. Click on the links inline to find the sources of the claims.
- Chicory Root tastes like coffee and delivers a fibre called inulin, we mentioned this above in the mitochondrial support section.
- Dandelion Greens can be used in salads and has 4 grams of fibre in a 100g serve.
- Jerusalem Artichoke, also known as earth apple provides 2 grams of fibre per 100g in the form of inulin.
- Garlic is around 11% fibre from inulin and 6% from FOS, mentioned earlier.
- Onions contain 10% fibre in the form of inulin and 6% FOS.
- Leeks contain 16% inulin fibre.
- Asparagus contains 2-3 grams per 100 grams of inulin.
- Bananas contain, amongst many other great things, inulin and unripe bananas contain resistant starch which also has prebiotic effects.
- Barley and Oats are also high in fibre.
- Apples contain pectin which we also spoke about above.
- Konjac root or elephant yam has 40% glucomannan fibre.
- Cocoa supports gut bacteria and produces nitric oxide in the colon which has cardiovascular benefits.
- Burdock root contains 4 grams of fibre per 100 grams, made up of both inulin and FOS.
- Flaxseeds are between 20% and 40% soluble fibre and 60-80% insoluble fibre.
- Yacon root is rich in FOS and inulin.
- Jicama root is high in fibre and low in calories.
- Wheat bran is the outer layer of the wheat grain and contains a special type of fibre called arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS).
- Seaweed is a potent prebiotic through is 50-85% water-soluble fibre.
Pro-biotics are additional bacteria that we introduce to our gut. We do this if we have reason to believe our own population has died out or not healthy, or, perhaps they simply don’t have a long life. Either way, it’s important to understand that this is only part of the equation and that, simply dumping more bacteria in our gut, isn’t always the best approach. Probiotics are good for improving the biodiversity of our gut bacteria species.
- Everyone knows yoghurt is a probiotic. In fact, it is one of the best as it is actually a culture from milk and the bacteria we use in our gut.
- Kefir is growing in popularity and is made in a similar way to yoghurt. It can be made from cow or goat milk and thought to be a better source than even yoghurt. Kefir can also be made from coconut juice as a dairy-free option.
- Sourkraut made from fermented cabbage is high in organic acids that support growth of good bacteria. It also contains lactobacillus.
- Kombucha is another very popular probiotic that is fermented from black tea.
- Natto is a popular dish in Japan made from fermented soybeans. It contains the Bacillus subtilis bacteria strain which is shown to help the immune system and support cardiovascular health as well as the absorption of vitamin K2.
- Kvass used throughout Eastern Europe since ancient times has been shown to help with blood and liver cleansing.
- Raw Cheese from goat, cheep and A2 cows milk are high in probiotics including thermophilous, Bifidus and acidophilus.
- Apple cider vinegar can help with probiotic intake according to Dr Axe.
- Salted gherkin pickles are also high in probiotics.
- Brine-cured olives are also high in probiotics.
- Tempeh from Indonesia is a fermented soybean product loaded with probiotics.
- Miso is a traditional Japanese spice found in sauces and soups in Japanese cooking.
- Buttermilk is high in probiotics being a fermented dairy product made from the leftovers of making butter.
- Kimchi is another fermented product, similar to sour kraut.
Mod-biotics are foods that modify bacteria in the gut by either poisoning or feeding those bacteria. We use mod-biotics to help balance the gut and to help with biodiversity. This is similar to prebiotics, and the term as a scientific definition is up for debate. The concept is to add polyphenols and other plant matter into your diet to help kill off the bad bacteria in over-abundance and support the good bacteria.
- Plant polyphenols such as fruit and vegetable skins, stems and seeds are the key to this approach.
This document is version controlled and is at version 1.9 We will be updating as new information comes to light so be sure to check back and subscribe to our feeds. If you are aware of other foods or conflicting information please provide us some feedback and we’ll be sure to investigate and update as appropriate.