If you read this month’s Food and Nutrition Magazine article, “Telomeres Insights into Aging,” you learned that telomeres are comparable to the caps on our shoelaces for our DNA or genes; they protect them from shortening and fraying. Recent research is providing evidence for a connection between telomere length and lower incidence of disease and better aging. Meanwhile, others are studying how we can either preserve the length or elongate our telomeres with diet. They have found that a plant-based diet that is rich in folate, antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium), omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D is associated with longer telomeres.
Why it is good for you: Folate helps us produce new, healthy cells. Supplementing with folic acid prior to conception and during pregnancy reduces the incidence of neural tube defects in developing infants.
Folate-rich foods include: dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, asparagus and Brussels sprouts), lentils and beans (pinto, black, navy and kidney); also found in fortified cereal and grain products, including enriched rice, breads, bagels and ready-to-eat cereals.
Antioxidants Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Selenium
Why they are good for you: They combat the free radicals that may cause cell damage or cell death.
Antioxidant-rich foods include: Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants, which is why a plant-based diet is often highly recommended.
Vitamin C: citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato juice, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and cantaloupe.
Vitamin E: nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, beef, poultry, dairy products, rice and other grain products.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Why they are good for you: They promote heart and brain health and may aid in the prevention and treatment of several diseases. The two main essential omega-3 fatty acids that are considered anti-inflammatory and protective against cardiovascular disease are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods include: Fatty fish such as salmon is an excellent source of EPA and DHA, but if you are a vegetarian, green leafy vegetables, nuts and vegetable oils (canola, soy, and flaxseed) provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted in part to EPA and DHA in the body. There are also vegetarian and vegan algae sources of EPA on the market.
Why it is good for you: promotes calcium absorption and may play a role in a variety of chronic conditions. Interestingly, it is the only vitamin that is synthesized in your skin from sun exposure.
Vitamin D-rich foods include: primarily animal products such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel), dairy products, cheese and egg yolks. Mushrooms are one of the only plant-based sources of vitamin D.
If there isn’t already enough evidence to promote a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, supplemented with reasonable amounts of lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy products, add the association with longer telomeres and better aging to the list! Taking a multivitamin, physical activity during leisure time, stress management and meditation are also associated with longer telomeres and therefore better aging. Promote overall health and aging by taking a lifestyle approach that incorporates all of these factors into daily living.
1. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate. (2012, December 14). Retrieved January 23, 2014, from National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements
2. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health. (2005, October 28). Retrieved January 23, 2014, from National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements
3. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Selenium. (2013, July 2). Retrieved January 23, 2014, from National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements
4. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin C. (2013, June 5). Retrieved January 23, 2014, from National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements
5. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. (2011, June 24). Retrieved January 23, 2014, from National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements
6. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin E. (2013, June 5). Retrieved January 23, 2014, from National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements
7. Stipanuk, M. H., & Caudill, M. A. (2013). Biochemical, Physiological, and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition (Third ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders.