Some define healthy aging as living disease free, while the World Health Organization defines it differently. Healthy aging does not require that you live completely disease free, but rather that you have functional ability as you age. Functional ability includes meeting basic needs, mobility, relationships, and more. As technology continues to advance, we gain different tools to impact healthy aging. Nutrigenomics and functional foods are areas being explored to promote healthy aging.
A simple definition of nutrigenomics is the effect of nutrition on gene expression. The term nutrigenomics also acts as an umbrella term including nutrigenetics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. Although aging is affected by many aspects, some studies have found that aging is impacted by nutrigenomics through telomere length and methylation.
Telomeres are located at the end of chromosomes and they help protect the genome. As cells divide, telomeres naturally shorten in length. Telomere length may be affected by genetics, epigenetics, and environment, including stress, physical activity, and diet. Methylation is one of the epigenetic mechanisms that acts on the DNA and has the potential to modify gene expression. Nutrition impacts epigenetics related to various diseases and aging, connecting methylation to long term health. It was concluded that both nutritional deficiency and excess of certain nutrients can cause damage to DNA.
Various foods and supplements are often marketed to promote healthy aging. You may have heard of the term “functional foods” or seen it labeled on your food products. A functional food is any food that has potential health benefits beyond that of providing basic nutrition. A functional food can be a whole food such as beans, nuts, whole grains, and berries, but it also includes modified foods such as yogurt, cereals, juices, and kefir. Functional foods may act as pre- and probiotics, help to lower cholesterol, support bone health, prevent aging of the skin, as well as many more functions.
Functional foods and supplements designed to promote skin health and decrease the appearance of aging often work through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, although the protein collagen is gaining significant popularity. Collagen is an abundant protein within the body and is a building block for skin, cartilage, bones, and tendons. You have likely seen collagen in supplement and powder forms, and it is now becoming common in protein bars, beverages and yogurts as a functional food. Although some studies have shown consuming collagen can improve skin elasticity and bone health, and decrease signs of aging, more research is needed. Since collagen is abundant in the body, research is not yet certain if consuming this protein helps increase collagen in the targeted tissues, such as in the skin to prevent fine lines and wrinkles.
Do you ever feel sleepy after eating too much around the holidays? Tryptophan, an amino acid found in poultry, is commonly associated with sleepiness. However, turkey and chicken contain roughly the same amount of tryptophan. The cause of fatigue during the holidays is more likely from overeating (and all the festivities) than it is from consuming turkey.
You’ve Got Questions? We’ve Got Answers!
Q: “Where can I find amaranth or spelt? These are among my top food recommendations, but they aren’t at my local grocery store.”
A: While you might be able to purchase quinoa or couscous at your local grocery, whole grains like amaranth and spelt may be harder to find. First, make sure you are looking in all sections of the grocery store. Sometimes, these grains are in the “health food” sections of the store. If you still can’t find them, try shopping online. Amazon has just about everything you can think of… including grains like amaranth and spelt!
Trends for Foodies
1. CBD foods: trends, perceived health benefits, what does the research say, potential pros and cons
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a single compound in the Cannabis sativa plant (also known as marajuana or hemp) which can interact with the central and peripheral nervous system. CBD is different from another cannabinoid called THC, which gets you “high.” Some people consume CBD to address joint pain, anxiety, insomnia, etc. However, research studies surrounding these claims are limited. Following the legalization of hemp, the market has exploded with foods, drinks and supplements containing CBD. You can find CBD-infused coffee, tea, sparkling water, gummies, cookie dough, breakfast cereals, even hot cheetos! However, these items don’t come cheap. CBD-infused foods and drinks can cost 2-4x more expensive than the non-infused versions of these foods.
Warning: CBD-infused foods and drinks should be consumed with caution given the lack of rigorous scientific information regarding dosing, effectiveness, and safety.
2. Oatmilk everything trend: perceived health benefits, what does the research say, potential pros and cons
A less controversial food trend is plant-based “milk” such as oatmilk. You have probably heard of almond milk, but maybe oatmilk is something new to you! Oatmilk has a mild, slightly sweet taste and has a consistency similar to skim milk. It is relatively high in protein at 4g per cup compared to almond milk at 1g per cup. Since oat milk is made from oats, it has a higher carbohydrate content than most other plant-based milks. Oat milk may be a good, plant-based milk option for people with nut and seed allergies! (https://med.virginia.edu/ginutrition/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2014/06/January-18-Milk-Alternatives.pdf)
Apples are naturally sweet and can make a tasty dessert or topping. Although apples have natural sugar in them, they also contain a soluble fiber called pectin. Soluble fiber moves slowly through our digestive tract and helps slow down the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream, preventing sugar “spikes”. If you’re looking for a simple apple recipe, try out this 3-Ingredient Applesauce recipe from the Minimalist Baker!
1 serving is ¼ cup
Calories: 21 kcals
Looking for a nutritious snack that will keep you feeling satisfied? Nuts are a great option! Though higher in fat, almonds have healthy fats that can make you feel fuller for longer. The skin of almonds also houses some nutrients and antioxidants, tool Try this almond recipe from Tasty for a sweet and salty treat.
1 serving is ¼ cup
Calories: 248 kcals