It’s no secret that our society is obsessed with a youthful appearance. Turn on any episode of your favorite reality television show and you’ll see the stars with faces that hardly move due to botox, fillers, and lip injections. In fact, an article from Reuters estimates that the anti-aging market is expected to reach $331 billion by 2021. Yikes! And I thought my recent purchase of face wash was pricey! Now, I want to make one thing clear—I am not in any place to shame anyone for wanting a youthful appearance or turning to procedures to achieve the look they desire. Who knows what I would do if I were on television and had access to far more disposable income than I currently do. I’m in no position to judge.
All of this does have me wondering why we are so fearful of aging though. Is it because we associate youthfulness with more carefree days? Are we afraid of what comes along with aging? For some reason the lyrics to one of my favorite John Mayer songs comes to my mind
“I’m so scared of getting older, I’m only good at being young.”
(from his song Stop this Train)
While I don’t have an answer to where our disdain for aging comes from, science does tell us that nutrition can play a role in helping us feel our best as we age. From cognitive support to nourishing our skin, we can incorporate certain nutrients to support our health. I think aging is a beautiful thing and we can also certainly benefit from taking away that stigma. Aging truly is a privilege that not everyone has and I would love for us all to feel great as we do so.Jump to Recipe
So let’s dive on in to some of the benefits—
When it comes to cognitive function (aka brain sharpness), evidence points to antioxidants, phytochemicals, and the B vitamins as the most helpful nutrients (1). Some of these terms may sound foreign to you, so let’s break it down.
Antioxidants are what help defend your cells from damage of free radicals (aka oxidative stress). These free radicals are harmful in that they can play a role in the development of heart disease and cancer. There are a number of different categories of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and lycopene (we’ll dive deeper a different day). For now, just remember that if you are getting a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors of the rainbow, then you are eating antioxidants. In our recipe, we’ll be getting some antioxidants from the blueberries and spinach. Many of these antioxidant-rich foods are also natural sources of phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are found in plant foods and are responsible for the color, odor, and flavor of the foods. They may also offer some degree of protection against certain diseases. Maybe you’ve heard of flavonoids before—that’s a phytochemical. You will find phytochemicals in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, beans, and seeds.
As far as the B vitamins go, some studies suggest that there may be some influence on cognition as shown in treatment of Parkinson’s disease (2, 3, 4). Some foods rich in B vitamins include: salmon, leafy greens, eggs, legumes, nutritional yeast, etc.
Our skin is one of the first places we may notice signs of aging. There are a number of things that contribute to the look of our skin, including genetics, environmental pollutants, smoking, diet, and stress (5). Some studies suggest that foods consumed such as vegetables, legumes, olive oil, and fish are associated with a lower risk of sun damage (6). Another study showed that women older than 40 who consumed lower amounts of protein, dietary cholesterol, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C had greater appearance of wrinkled skin (7). Probably the strongest correlation between nutrition and wrinkles is seen in studies looking at vitamin C—where vitamin C is credited for playing a role in collagen formation and skin regeneration. This is good news because our fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in vitamin C—no need to take a high-dose supplement. There is also some evidence supporting Vitamin E topically, but that’s not really in my scope of practice. I bet your dermatologist would have some great insight on this. 🙂
The final area we’ll explore is hair. I totally understand the appeal of maintaining the thickness and strength of your hair. I totally fell for one of those MLM pyramid scheme products a couple of years ago and spent wayyyy too much money on something that didn’t work for me. Guilty.
But what can we do as far as nutrition is concerned?
From what I gathered in the research, much of the evidence is shown in people who are already nutrient deficient. Not as many studies have evaluated hair growth in people void of deficiencies (8). Some studies have pointed to correlations between vitamin D, omega-3, and omega-6 deficiencies and hair loss (vii). Protein and amino acids appear to be important for hair growth—but there seems to be no evidence to support supplement recommendation outside of deficiency. The table below from Today’s Dietitian nicely sums up some of the sources of nutrients that may promote hair growth.
If you are eating a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, omega-3 fats, nuts, seeds…you are probably on your way to healthy aging. You’ll notice that I never once went on a rant about foods to avoid. That’s not really my style. My role as a dietitian is to help find ways to enrich the diet you already have and meet you where you are. So start with a couple of suggestions on here and see where you can add something into your routine. Once you’ve mastered that, select another food or nutrient.
To tie this all together, I wanted to leave you with my go-to smoothie recipe. My friend (and soon-to-be dietetic intern) Kylie taught me this delicious combination last summer and I haven’t looked back.
- 1 banana, frozen
- 1 cup mango, frozen
- 1 cup blueberries, frozen
- 1 handful spinach, fresh or frozen
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 3/4 cup milk I used Ripple pea protein milk
- Blend all of the ingredients together. Add more or less milk for desired consistency.
- Smith, P. J. & Blumenthal, J. A. (2010). Diet and neurocognition: review of evidence and methodological considerations. Current Aging Science, 3(1), 57-66.
- Kennedy, D. O. (2016). Vitamins and the brain: mechanisms, dose and efficacy—a review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68.
- de Jager, C. A., Oulhaj, A., Jacoby, R., Refsum, H. & Smith, A. D. (2012). Cognitive and clinical outcomes of homocysteine-lowering B-vitamin treatment in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 27(6), 592-600.
- Wakade, C. & Chong, R. (2014). A novel treatment target for Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Neurological Science, 347(1-2), 34-38.
- Guinot, C., Malvy, D. J., Ambroisine, L., et al. (2002). Relative contribution of intrinsic vs. extrinsic factors to skin aging as determined by a validated skin age score. Arch Dermatol, 138(11), 1454-1460.
- Purba, M. B., Kouris-Blazos, A., Wattanapenpaiboon, N., et al. (2001). Skin wrinkling: can food make a difference? J Am Coll Nutr, 20(1), 71-80.
- Cosgrove, M. C., Franco, O. H., Granger, S. P., Murray, P. G., & Mayes, P. G. (2007). Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(4), 1225-1231.
- Guo, E. L., & Katta, R. (2017). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatolotical Practice Concepts, 7(1), 1-10.
Articles of Inspiration:
i. Ruscigno, M. (2016). Brain food for older adults. Today’s Dietitian, 18(6), 22.
ii. Palmer, S. (2008). Beauty from within: natural approaches to nourishing skin, Today’s Dietitian, 10(3), 50.
iii. Getz, L. (2012). Optimize whole-body nutrition for healthful aging—experts say a nutrient-dense diet plus physical activity will help clients stay younger longer, Today’s Dietitian, 14(3), 32.
iv. Webb, D. (2013). Phytochemicals’ role in good health. Today’s Dietitian, 15(9), 70.
v. Getz, L. (2008). Making sense of antioxidants. Today’s Dietitian, 10(9), 50.
vi. Reisdorf, A. G. (2016). Beauty and nutrition. Today’s Dietitian, 18(9), 56-61.
vii. Levings, J. (2017). Hair growth supplements. Today’s Dietitian, 19(9), 40-44.