WE OFTEN hear about anti-ageing when it comes to looking after our skin. But diets can be anti-ageing too.
Several scientific studies have shown rats and primates living longer after following particular diets. Plant-based lifestyles with a focus on fresh produce, the right mix of fats, minimal processed foods and periods of fasting have been linked to longevity.
Take 103-year-old Ramez Joukador. Born in a small farming village in Lebanon before coming to Australia in 1952, Ramez remains a keen farmer, still growing many of his own vegetables. He eats mainly oily fish and avoids most processed foods including biscuits and snack foods. Legumes and in particular lentils are consumed almost daily as well as plenty of heart-healthy olive oil. Despite needing a stent when he was in his 70s, almost 30 years later the centenarian continues to maintain his Mediterranean lifestyle and remains in excellent health.
So if you are keen to live as long as possible, and even make it to the big 100, here are some of the proven dietary strategies that will help you to get there.
GET YOUR CARBS RIGHT
Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to cut out your carbs completely in order to slow down cellular ageing.
For the average Aussie, carbs make up about 50-60 per cent of their diet. Instead, your daily average of carbs need to be reduced to 30-40 per cent of calories to help support weight control and reduce inflammation.
Also the carbs we eat tend to be more refined - rice, white breads, noodles, sugars - a high intake of which is known to increase inflammation and cellular ageing. The first step in taking control of your carbohydrate intake is to focus on natural, wholegrain carbs such as sweet potato, fruit and small portions of wholegrains such as corn, quinoa and buckwheat and consume these carbs in small amounts - just a couple of times each day - to support both weight and blood glucose control.
The right types of carbs are also important as they expose the digestive tract to valuable fibres that have an important role in preventing bowel cancer.
Of all the evidence, it is intermittent fasting that has the strongest link to long lifespans. It appears that consuming very few calories on a regular basis helps to reset a number of cellular hormones that are linked to cellular damage, inflammation and ultimately ageing. Even a weekly fast of minimal calories, or a day or two of consuming just 500-600 calories is all that is required to gain the health and cellular benefits associated with fasting.
GET YOUR FAT BALANCE RIGHT
When it comes to the fat we consume, it all comes down to getting the right mix of polyunsaturated, mono-unsaturated and saturated fats.
The human metabolism works best when we achieve a 1:1:1 balance of these three fat types. But modern diets have greatly distorted these ratios so we are often consuming far more processed vegetable oils and saturated fat from processed foods, fatty meat and dairy.
For this reason, one of the easiest ways to improve your fat balance is to eat more foods that contain omega-3, long-chain polyunsaturated fats and reduce our intake of processed fats that come from vegetable oils, fast and fried foods and processed snacks.
Aim to consume oily fish at least three times each week, choose soy and linseed bread and add seeds and nuts such as pumpkin seeds, chia and walnuts into your diet.
BUMP UP THE FRESH FOOD
Forget two and five a day - to gain the benefits of longevity you need to get your daily fruit and vegetable intake to 7-10 serves a day.
While this may sound a lot, a vegetable juice with breakfast, a salad with lunch and 2-3 different vegetables along with a couple of pieces of fruit each day will help you reach this target easily.
EAT FEWER MEALS
How many times do you eat each day? Three square meals? Or five small meals plus snacks per day? Chances are it is the latter as we live in a society which encourages frequently eating, whether it is a cup of coffee, a piece of fruit or a couple of biscuits from the office biscuit tin.
The issue with frequent eating is that every time we eat a carbohydrate-containing food (milk, fruit, bread, cereals, snacks) we release the hormone insulin. High levels of insulin over time are linked to an increase in inflammation which is extremely damaging to cells.
Help to reverse this process by eating less often, and allowing four or five hours in between meals as opposed to the two to three hours we more frequently adopt. Not only is it better for weight and appetite control, but the health of your cells will benefit long-term.
Susie Burrell is a dietitian and nutritionist. Follow her on Twitter @SusieBDiet