The 5 worst foods for a long life, according to aging experts

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Red and processed meats are one of the worst staples for healthy aging – and searing them on the grill makes them worse.

Credit: vgajic / E + / GettyImages

Genetics, environment, lifestyle: there are a number of factors that contribute to longevity. As healthy hotspots like the Blue Zones have shown, all of these things, but also our diet, can have a significant impact on our aging.

Research has repeatedly shown that a balanced, Mediterranean diet can be the key to healthy aging. With an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil, the diet is automatically anti-inflammatory and long-lasting.

On the other hand, some foods and drinks can interfere with the aging process. After all, about one in five deaths occurs due to poor diet, according to a May 2019 study published in. has been publishedThe lancet. This is worrying because many of the foods that contribute to dietary risk of chronic disease are staples on the standard American diet.

Below, aging experts highlight the five worst foods and drinks for longevity, and what to eat instead.

Sad but true: alcohol is a poison and does our health no favors. Despite the supposed benefits of alcohol (but the antioxidants in red wine!), Experts agree that alcohol is far from healthy.

For one, alcohol increases the risk of cancer, the second leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And research shows that adult beverages increase the risk of colon and breast cancer even when consumed low, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Alcohol is also a well-known immunosuppressant, which is particularly problematic for the elderly.

“The effectiveness of the immune system decreases with age, a process called immunosenescence,” said Katie Dodd, RD, a registered nutritionist specializing in caring for older adults who founded The Geriatric Dietitian. “Chronic alcohol consumption combined with immune senescence increases the risk of having a poorly functioning immune system.”

Follow the latest American dietary guidelines, which recommend a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Better yet, cut that amount in half (or less). When it comes to alcohol and longevity, less is more. Cheers.

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“Eating for a long life includes eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and lots of protein,” says Dodd. “Protein is so important to longevity because it protects muscle mass when done with resistance exercises. On the other hand, a low-protein diet can worsen age-related health outcomes. If we lose muscle as we age, our risk of falling, getting sick, going to the hospital, or even taking care of ourselves increases. “

Attention bacon lovers: Processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs and corned beef are classified as Group 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization. Translation: There is ample evidence that chronic consumption of these foods increases the risk of colon cancer.

“The WHO classification has caused quite a stir,” said Donald Hensrud, MD, an internist specializing in preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “But the organization has reviewed hundreds of studies over a long period of time and made its decision based on the accumulated evidence.”

You may be wonderingIs there an acceptable amount of processed meat that I can enjoy?There are currently no specific guidelines from health or cancer organizations regarding the amount of salami that is considered safe. But even the consumption of 50 grams of processed meat – that’s equivalent to a hot dog – is associated with a 16 percent increased risk of colon cancer, according to the AICR.

“Most nutritional data are epidemiological in nature, which makes it difficult to prove causality,” says Dr. Hensrud firmly. “However, the overall consistency of the data is pretty convincing.”

In general, the less processed meat we eat, the better. Limit red and processed meats and instead emphasize fresh, lean proteins like fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, and tempeh.

When it comes to eating longevity, it all boils down to eating more unprocessed, natural foods and highlighting plants.

3. Drinks sweetened with sugar

We hate teaching you, but sips like soda have no redeeming properties when it comes to our health.

The sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the main contributors to added sugar in the American diet and, according to the CDC, are among the main culprits in rising rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart, kidney and liver disease.

There is also evidence that excess sugar could mess up our minds. Chronically high blood sugar levels are linked to a significantly higher rate of cognitive decline, according to a longitudinal study published in January 2018Diabetology.The researchers also reported that subjects with diabetes had greater decreases in memory and executive function over the course of the eight-year study compared to those without diabetes.

But dietary interventions can help. Take the MIND diet, for example. It’s essentially a cross between the Mediterranean Diet and the dietary approaches to stopping high blood pressure (or the DASH Diet).

Sticking to the MIND diet was shown in a June 2015 study in. has been associated with significant reductions in the rate of cognitive decline in older adultsAlzheimer’s & dementia.

“The MIND diet includes healthy foods like vegetables, berries, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, fish, beans, and poultry,” says Dodd. “But there are also foods to avoid or limit, including sweets.”

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You don’t have to cut out carbohydrates entirely to live longer. “We have shifted over the years from high-carb, low-fat diets to high-fat, low-carb diets like the keto diet,” notes Dr. Hensrud. But the best approach can just be a happy middle. People who ate between 50 and 55 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates had the lowest death rates compared to people who ate more or less of their total calories from carbohydrates, according to a September 2018 analysis inThe Lancet Public Health.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Americans, on average, consume nearly 50 percent more than the recommended amount of sodium each day. One of the main sources of excess salt in the standard American diet? Ultra-processed foods (UPFs), including items such as packaged snacks.

No, eating Doritos won’t end your life. However, recent research suggests that heavy, chronic use of UPFs could potentially accelerate aging. To understand the context, it is important to first have a working definition of telomeres.

Quite simply: “Telomeres are associated with aging,” says Dr. Hensrud. “Longer telomeres are associated with longer lifespans.”

Telomeres sit at the end of chromosomes, which are essentially packages of DNA in cells. They serve to protect DNA from damage, and every time a cell divides, telomeres get shorter, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. When the telomeres shorten, the cell’s DNA is more prone to damage. As a result, the functionality of the cell (and thus also the service life) decreases.

OK, but where do the Doritos come in? Regular consumption of UPFs is in. According to a study from June 2020. Associated with a higher chance of having short telomeres in older adultsThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.As this was a cross-sectional study, we cannot conclude that more packaged snacks are eatencausesCells age faster. In addition, other lifestyle habits of high UPF consumers may be responsible for the reduction in telomere length.

But while studies of the relationship between diet and telomeres have produced conflicting results, some of the existing literature supports the idea that telomeres could shorten in response to oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and inflammation in the body, all of which can be made worse by diet, according to decisions a review from August 2016 innature.

The final result? Reduce your intake of UPFs for a better chance of healthy aging. When snacking, choose whole, unprocessed foods with minimal ingredients, like an apple with natural peanut butter, carrots dipped in guacamole, or natural Greek yogurt that is naturally sweetened with fresh fruit and cinnamon.

5. Fried and charred meat

We now know that processed meat is a problem for our health. But also fresh animal proteins that are prepared with certain cooking methods. The worst offenders are frying and grilling with high heat.

Both preparations can produce harmful compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrogens (PAHs), according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Each form from the unique interaction between the high heat (think: 300 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), protein components such as amino acids, fats and creatinine.

The problem with PAHs and HCAs is that they are mutagenic, which means they have the ability to cause cell mutations that can increase the risk of cancer. To date, most of the research in this area has been carried out on animals. However, epidemiological studies in humans suggest a possible link between HCAs and certain types of cancer, according to a July 2016 study in the journalGenes and environment.

For your information: How many PAHs and HCAs are formed depends on the type of protein to be cooked, the preparation method used and the cooking time of the food according to the NCI. Avoid grilling or grilling meat over direct heat for long periods of time. For example, the char from well-fried chicken can be high in harmful compounds.

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To reduce your exposure to PAHs and HCAs, limit fried meat products, cut away charred chunks, avoid using gravy sauces, and flip your proteins over frequently when directing meat, poultry, or fish over , cook on high heat.

When it comes to eating longevity, “it all boils down to eating more unprocessed, natural foods and emphasizing plants,” explains Dr. Hensrud.

A balanced, wholesome diet not only improves the death rate, it also leaves us more energetic and nutrient-rich. That’s the key. “It’s important to think about quality of life, not just long-term disease prevention,” says Dr. Hensrud.



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