You can’t change the number of candles on your birthday cake, but you can change how you feel and act as you age—no injections, serums, or surgery required. In fact, the latest science shows that the secret to healthy aging is not found in a medicine cabinet or a medical clinic; It’s in the kitchen.

“Nutrition is a key determinant of healthy aging,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It can affect the risk of major chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

Including 2023 research published in , they looked at the impact of diet on health and aging JAMA Internal Medicine which explored the long-term effects of different diets on the risks of disease and death.

These foods are highly associated with reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline, chronic disease, or early death.

Mediterranean diet

Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet has been reported to have numerous health benefits, from improving sleep to preventing major cardiovascular events.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. In addition to being low in sugar and salt, these foods are low in saturated fat, which is beneficial for cognitive health.

“Depleted fat is thought to be particularly harmful in the aging brain,” said Jennifer Ventrell, an assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center.

In contrast, Ventrell notes that extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and nut butters—all staples of the Mediterranean diet—are rich in unsaturated fats and high in vitamin E, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and other polyphenols that are linked to disease prevention. Alzheimer’s disease in research studies.

DASH diet

The Diet to Stop High Blood Pressure (DASH) diet was developed in the 1990s to treat high blood pressure.

Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, and nuts and seeds, but also allows for higher levels of animal protein, including red meat and eggs. The DASH diet is lower in fat and sodium than the Mediterranean diet.

Initial research has shown that the diet helps to reduce systolic blood pressure, and further studies have shown that the DASH diet is associated with an increase in epigenetic age, which means that participants who follow the diet are slower than their peers.

Mental nutrition

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets and shares dietary recommendations made up of whole grains and lean meats.

The biggest difference: The MIND diet prioritizes leafy greens and berries, which are among the “most powerful foods known for their effects on brain health,” according to Ventrell.

A study of obese, middle-aged women found that the MIND diet reversed the effects of obesity on cognition and improved cognitive performance.

“The interesting part about the MIND diet is that even when followed in moderation, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 35 percent,” Venterell added. “This sends the message that people don’t have to be on a strict ‘diet’ to reap the benefits of a brain-healthy diet.”

Alternative healthy eating index

The Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), created by Harvard, ranks foods and nutrients based on their association with chronic disease and gives a score from zero to 100 based on how often you eat healthy foods. The higher the AHEI score, the healthier the diet. Examples of high-scoring foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, tofu, nuts, legumes, and fish.

Higher scores on the AAEI were associated with a lower risk of chronic disease, a 40% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 25% lower risk of all-cause mortality than those with lower scores. It was one of the diets included in Hu’s. JAMA Internal Medicine Research has shown that it has a strong connection to healthy aging.

“Interestingly, higher scores on the …AAEI were associated with a lower risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease,” Hu says.

Moisture is key

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) researchers found that higher serum sodium levels, a marker of dehydration, are associated with greater biological age.

Dehydration forces hormones into overdrive, affecting organs and tissues and triggering accelerated aging, says Natalia Dimireva, PhD, senior research scientist at NHLB.

“Middle-aged people [with high] Serum sodium… they are biologically more likely to be older, develop chronic diseases later in life, and die younger,” Dimireva says.

Drinking water is an obvious way to stay hydrated, but regular unsweetened tea and seltzer also count toward hydration goals.

Choosing the best plan

The variations of these diets may be different, but they share common approaches to healthy eating, including prioritizing plant-based foods and cutting back on highly processed foods high in sugar and sodium and high in refined starch.

When it comes to the best diet for healthy aging, Hu recommends a “flexible” approach.

“A person does not have to follow only one diet throughout their life; [you] He can switch between these different healthy foods,” he said. “It is important that individuals adapt these healthy eating patterns to their own food and cultural preferences so that they can enjoy the food and stick to it.”

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