Five ageing accelerators
1 Sluggish digestion
A well-functioning digestive system is central to the anti-ageing process. But when the gut becomes sluggish the body doesn’t absorb nutrients very well – skin, hair, nails, muscles and bones become undernourished and you start to look and feel older. Yeasts such as candida overgrow, causing toxic side effects, such as headaches, spots, chronic tiredness, depression, low energy and high cholesterol. Around 70 per cent of the immune system is located in the gut, so if it’s sluggish, immunity can be compromised. There’s also a connection between gut and mood: the digestive system contains more neurons than the spinal cord and more neurotransmitters than the brain. In fact, 90 per cent of the mood-enhancing chemical serotonin is created in the bowels, so this so-called ‘eliminative slowdown’ influences mood and emotional wellbeing, too.
Best detoxifier: beetroot is your daily age-defying vitamin and mineral feast. Packed with folic acid, iron, fibre, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium carotenoids, vitamins A, Bs and C, it also contains highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory red pigment.
The charcoal test
To check your gut’s transit time, take 5g–10g charcoal (available from health-food shops) two hours before eating and five hours before bed. The perfect time for your bowel movements to turn black is
12–24 hours. Anything more and sluggish gut movement could cause toxic build-up. Anything less, and nutrients are not being absorbed properly.
This is our fast, natural reaction to injury, allergy and infection – as soon as a splinter pierces our skin, the inflammatory response kicks in to protect us. As we age, this response can become overreactive, leaving activated immune cells circulating in the body. Scientists have coined the word ‘inflammaging’ to describe this state of chronic low-level inflammation, and it can take a heavy toll on the body, causing infections, allergies and loss of skin quality.
The immune system starts in the gut, so if it’s inflamed (signs are gas, bloating, loose stools, tenderness) your immunity is compromised. Stay away from foods that cause bloating, or make your eyes or nose run. These are inflammatory responses. Classic inflammatory foods are red meat, sugar, white flour and some dairy products. Instead go for foods containing inflammation-dampening antioxidants (polyphenols), including curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), and omega-3 fatty acids.
Best anti-inflammatory: turmeric Aim for one teaspoon of dried turmeric or a thumb-sized piece of fresh root every day in juices, scrambled eggs, stir-fries or rice during cooking. Be careful as it
can stain hands and clothes.
Ease the oestrogen drop
Some women first notice joint pain and other inflammatory symptoms during the menopause, when oestrogen levels drop. Eating a diet rich in plant oestrogens (beans, seeds, leafy greens, whole grains) helps lessen inflammation naturally.
Every cell in the body needs oxygen, but it is highly reactive and always looking to combine with other molecules. When it does, it produces unstable atoms called free radicals, which then steal electrons from other atoms. This process can result in oxidative stress, which if prolonged can damage cell structure – even DNA. Our bodies have evolved many ways to manage oxidative stress, but when we are also exposed to high levels of external toxins, such as alcohol, stress, UV light and chemicals in food and cleaning products, it adds to the load we have to process and potentially increases the number of free radicals. A diet of colourful foods, such as green leafy veg, orange fruit and veg, purple berries, cacao nibs and green tea, can help as they contain high levels of
antioxidants, which give up an electron to bond with free radicals so they don’t have to steal them from your cells.
Best antioxidant: red beans Choose from kidney, pinto or aduki beans or small red beans. Their skins are rich in flavonoids such as anthocyanins and other compounds, which pack a big antioxidant punch and reduce eliminative slowdown and inflammation.
4 Hormone imbalance
When you are hormonally imbalanced your body is on an ageing roller coaster – you gain weight, your skin starts to wrinkle, you sleep badly, feel stressed and begin to look older. Hormones counterbalance each other in complex ways, so long-term over- or under-production of a specific hormone – often caused by diet or stress – can cause hormones to overreact. For example, an imbalance of stress hormones may cause wrinkles, abdominal fat gain, sleep disruption, anxiety, mood swings, allergies, headaches, susceptibility to infection, muscle weakness, sugar/alcohol cravings, gas and loss of libido.
Imbalance of thyroid hormones This may cause fatigue, dry skin, heart palpitations, cold hands and feet, thinning hair, brittle nails, weight gain/retention, menstrual irregularities and loss of libido.
Too much insulin This may cause cellulite, sagging skin, abdominal fat, fast weight gain, fatigue, poor memory, carbohydrate cravings, disrupted sleep, elevated blood fats and diabetes.
Diet can help you stabilise your hormones, as will lowering your stress levels with good food and sleep, which will also improve your mood.
Key hormone balancers Pumpkin seeds, asparagus, unrefined whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats), nuts (especially brazil nuts), oysters, liquorice (provided you don’t suffer from high blood pressure).
Best hormone balancer: garlic
It contains vitamin B6 which helps with serotonin production and corrects high cortisol levels – a frequent cause of night waking. Garlic is a source of phytoestrogens, which mimic the action of oestrogen and so can help perimenopausal and menopausal women. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels. Aim to eat a clove a day.
Women’s testosterone declines during menopause, leading to less muscle and even more fat around the middle. Eat lots of cabbage and broccoli — good testosterone-supporting foods (unless you have an underactive thyroid).
Every cell in the body works best when the fluid inside it is slightly alkaline. But when we eat too many acid-producing foods, such as meat, coffee, cheese, cereal, sugary drinks and snacks, the resulting long-term acid overload – acidification – makes us susceptible to ageing processes.
To neutralise excess acid, the body pulls calcium (which is alkaline) and magnesium from bones, weakening them and potentially leading to osteoporosis. Iodine is taken from soft tissue, which negatively affects the thyroid, leading to fatigue and depression, mental ‘fog’, weight gain and diabetes.
Chronic acidity may also encourage fatty acids to go from a negative to a positive charge and to stick to artery walls, leading to the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Enzyme function may weaken, creating digestive disorders and food intolerances.
There’s a big difference between acidic foods and acid-forming foods. For example, citrus fruits are acidic but have an alkalising effect on the body. You can reverse acidity by avoiding acid-forming foods and eating an alkaline diet – fruit, vegetables and legumes (such as lentils).
Best alkaliser: lemon For a powerful alkalising start to your day drink lemon juice in warm water. It flushes away the liver’s by-products. Use a straw so acid doesn’t harm tooth enamel.
Glug the greens
When you eat a meal high in acid-forming foods, balance it later in the day with a big glass of green juice. Try a mix of celery, spinach, lettuce, kale, parsley, lemon and fresh ginger. It’ll boost your alkalinity.
The five most ageing foods
There is a vast difference between simple sugars – the refined processed kind usually added to foods – and the slow-releasing carbohydrates that the body converts to glucose to use as fuel. One is ageing, the other is vital. Sugar is involved in four of the ageing processes – acidification, inflammation, eliminative slowdown and hormonal imbalance. A diet full of highly sugared foods slows the body’s ability to regenerate itself and so speeds the ageing process. On an everyday level it causes aching joints, cravings, flabby belly, lack of muscle tone, lowered alertness, mood swings, puffy eyes, spots, tooth decay and wrinkles. Sugar has been shown to shorten life span, hence its nickname, ‘white death’. It is the most ageing food of all.
Switch to slow-release carbohydrates (whole grains, pulses, fruit and veg) instead of refined sugar. Many savoury foods are sweet too. Try beetroot, carrots, sweet potato, tomato, almonds or pistachios when you crave a sweet kick. Good fats slow down the metabolism of sugar, so eat
fruit with nuts and seeds.
Don’t join the sugar rush
Your brain runs on glucose, but unlike other organs, it cannot store it — the amount it gets is the amount that happens to be travelling round the bloodstream. This makes it vulnerable to fluctuating levels of blood sugar. So a sugary snack or drink is like injecting your brain with glucose. You get an instant hit, which quickly diminishes, and your brain goes into crisis mode: you feel weak, headachey, moody and unable to concentrate. In short, all the ageing symptoms of hypoglycaemia. The answer is to avoid processed sugars and fuel your brain with complex carbohydrates instead.
Sodium and chloride – the two components of salt – are important minerals that, along with potassium, keep muscles, nerves and cells functioning well. Despite being an essential compound, salt is ageing simply because we eat too much of it. It’s a cheap flavour enhancer as well as a preservative, and is found in overprocessed foods as well as in ‘healthy’ foods, such as canned beans, cold meats, cheese, bran cereals and soups. Look for anything that says ‘sodium’ on the label, including sodium sulphite (in dried fruits) and sodium alginate (in ice cream). Overconsumption accelerates the ageing processes of acidification, eliminative slowdown, hormone imbalance and inflammation.
You should consume no more than 3g salt (1g sodium) per day. The easiest way to do this is to stop adding salt to your food and avoid processed foods that have more than 0.2g sodium per 100g.
Switch to herbs and, if you must have salt, use Himalayan rock salt or Celtic sea salt, which contain more minerals than table salt and taste ‘saltier’ so you need less.
Halt the salt
A high-salt diet causes inflammation: the cells swell with water, which upsets the sodium/potassium balance that generates the energy needed to move muscles and nerves, causing weakness
3 Cow’s milk
Although cow’s milk is full of calcium, vitamins and protein, it also triggers four of the ageing processes – eliminative slowdown (causing bloating, constipation or diarrhoea), inflammation (mucus, stiff joints, inflammatory bowel disorders), hormonal imbalance (affecting blood sugar and oestrogen levels) and is acid-forming. Therefore it needs to be balanced by alkalising foods such as vegetables, otherwise calcium (an alkaline) is leached from bones and teeth, negating the effects of this so-called calcium-rich food in the first place. It’s also been linked to serious health conditions, including diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers, and can be a major allergen linked to asthma and eczema. Look out also for milk derivatives (casein and lactose) in breads, cakes, biscuits, processed meats and crisps.
Switch to goat’s, sheep’s or buffalo milk, which are richer in many vitamins and minerals and contain anti-inflammatory oligosaccharides, which boost friendly gut bacteria and are easier to digest, especially as yoghurt. Try cheeses such as manchego, feta and mozzarella, which are not from cow’s milk. For calcium, switch to dark green leafy veg, beans, nuts and seeds, grains and nut milks.
We need protein to build muscles, ligaments and skin. But meat is not the only protein and as well as triggering all five of the ageing processes, it is loaded with saturated fats and very calorific.
Meat is one of the most acid-forming foodstuffs and because of its high levels of saturated fats, it causes chronic inflammation. Processed meat is high in cancer-causing sulphites and nitrites. It irritates the gut and frying, grilling or chargrilling causes DNA-altering, cancer-causing compounds.
It also causes free radicals and leads to oxidative stress.
Switch to fish, which is a good source of protein. Other youth-making proteins include eggs, grains (especially amaranth and quinoa), legumes (beans, lentils, tofu), nuts and seeds. If you do eat meat limit it to one portion (up to 100g) once a week, preferably free-range chicken/turkey or organic lamb (once a month).
Meats to avoid
Sausages, bacon, ham, burgers, hot dogs and barbecued, grilled and roasted meats should be avoided if possible as they are acid-forming, cause inflammation and some are high in cancer-causing sulphites and nitrites.
5 Bad fats
Fats are essential for maintaining cell structure, helping the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and for healthy-looking skin, brain function, mood and energy.
Every cell in our body has a protective outer coating of fat and protein. If that coating is fluid (ie, made of good fats), it can help cells absorb nutrients and water, as well as process chemical messengers. If it is not fluid (because of a diet of bad fats), this process is impaired. It’s thought that lack of fluidity is a trigger for many ageing symptoms, including decline in skin quality, inflammation, allergies, depression, PMT, joint pain and osteoarthritis.
Bad fats are transfats or hydrogenated fats and, even though UK producers are phasing out transfats, they are still widely found in processed foods such as cakes, fast food, ice cream and oils for deep frying. They interfere with cell function and cause inflammation, acidification, oxidation and hormonal imbalance. Transfats have also been linked to depression, coronary heart disease, raising bad cholesterol and lowering good, and increasing the risk of degenerative diseases. They may also lead to blood sugar disorders as they disrupt the action of insulin.
Switch to fats from unprocessed oily fish, avocados, goat/sheep products, soya and nuts. It’s better to eat full fat than processed low-fat foods and cold-pressed rather than refined oils.
Don’t be coconut shy
Coconut oil is a saturated fat — a phrase that usually rings alarm bells. But because it is plant-based, it contains short- and medium-chain triglycerides, which are healthier for you than the long-chain triglycerides found in saturated animal fats. The liver burns shorter-chain triglycerides as energy so, despite coconut oil being highly calorific, it can help with weight loss — one study shows that women aged 20 to 40 have smaller waists after eating coconut oil for 12 weeks. It may lower blood cholesterol too, making it a top youth-making choice.
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