Yes, it seems you can indeed slow down the process of ageing through what you eat. According to a study published in January 2016 in the journal Elsevier, your age depends on telomeres—tiny caps found at the end of a DNA strand. As the cells age, the telomeres reduce in length.
“This reduction can be accelerated because of obesity, diabetes or smoking. Exercise and a healthy diet can slow down the process,” says Tanvi V. Sawant, a sports nutritionist at Bhatia Hospital in Mumbai.
Swati Bhushan, chief clinical nutritionist at the Fortis Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai, says that if your diet is loaded with vitamins C, E, A, B complex, and minerals like zinc and selenium, your skin quality will improve. “Nutrients in a balanced diet can nourish your skin, prevent wrinkles, resist infection and stop free radicals from damaging your skin,” she adds.
We break down some nutrients that can help you stay agile and young.
Infuse turmeric in milk
That old granny tale about drinking milk with a pinch of turmeric actually works. “Having a pinch of turmeric with milk daily (for an adult) makes your skin shine as turmeric has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties,” explains Sawant. A study published in July 2014 in the PLOS Medicine journal proved that curcumin, the powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemical in turmeric, protects the shortening of telomeres, keeping the cells younger. “When had in raw form, turmeric helps in fighting against bacteria and in blood purification,” she says. Those who are lactose-intolerant can have turmeric with water, even honey. The idea is to have it in raw form, as cooking reduces the effects of curcumin, adds Sawant.
Limit intake of sugar and salt
Limiting the daily intake of white sugar to less than two teaspoons in your daily diet can help you look younger. “Sugar possibly inflicts the largest damage to the body,” says Sanjiv Shah, senior consultant, endocrinologist and diabetologist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. Sugar bonds with amino acids in the body to form advanced-glycation end products, which result in chronic degenerative diseases, diabetes and ageing. While sucrose leads to an increase in insulin secretion, naturally occurring sources of sugar, like fruits and milk (which contain fructose and lactose, respectively) are quite protective and useful for the body, Dr Shah adds.
Salt, on the other hand, dehydrates the body and increases fatigue levels. “Excess amounts of salt cause kidney disease, high blood pressure and gastric trouble, all of which make you age faster,” says Dr Shah. “Most adults consume 8-9g per day of salt. If you drop that to 6g per day or less, you will slow down your body’s ageing process.”
Eat plenty of greens
Leafy vegetables such as spinach and greens like broccoli are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that fight wrinkle-causing free radicals, says Anita Jatana, chief dietitian at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi. “Antioxidants prevent damage to cells, fight with disease and sickness, making them powerful anti-ageing tools,” she says. Leafy greens not only give you a facelift, but also help you retain your mind’s agility for a longer time. A study of older adults conducted in December by the US’ University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that lutein, a pigment found in dark-green vegetables, helps to preserve cognitive function and mental sharpness as the brain ages.
Add in a tomato
Packed with lycopene, uric acid and lutein, tomatoes load your body with antioxidants. “They help maintain youthful skin texture and reduce the risk of heart disease as well as prevent muscular degeneration,” says Jatana. Choose the very red tomatoes as these are loaded with the good lycopene. A six-country study on an anti-ageing diet, funded by the European Commission and published in the journal Nutrients in October, found that age was inversely associated with lycopene. So the more lycopene you have in your diet, the less you age.
Pack in some fibre
Increase the amount of fibre in your diet. A study by Australian researchers published in The Journals Of Gerontology in June found that those who had the highest intake of fibre had an 80% greater likelihood of living a long and healthy life over a 10-year follow-up period. They also tended to avoid disability and chronic diseases. “Vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes, all high in fibre, regulate your digestive system, help ease constipation, lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation, leading to a healthier heart,” says Dr Jatana.
Adopt a Mediterranean diet
“The diet packs in protein and fibre-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts like almonds and walnuts, while using healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil instead of butter, making it one of the best ways to a balanced meal,” explains Dr Shah. He also approves of the Mediterranean diet as it is flavoured with herbs and spices instead of salt. “On top of that, replacing red meat with fish and poultry twice a week reduces the risk of cardiovascular mortality, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” he adds.
Go for oranges
Vitamin Cs certainly help you to look younger. Pack in some vitamin C to regenerate antioxidants and get great-looking skin, says Bhushan. “Vitamin C-rich foods like an orange a day prevent free radical damage and neutralize harmful elements in our skin, helping to prevent wrinkles, resist infection and keep our skin youthful,” she adds.
Applying one of these fruits to your face too will give you a natural lift, according to a study published in 2015 in Clinical, Cosmetic And Investigational Dermatology. “Topically applied vitamin C is highly efficient as a rejuvenation therapy and induces significant collagen synthesis in all age groups,” concludes the study.