Yes, You Have Control Over Your Healthspan: A Nutrition PhD's Advice For Optimizing Longevity
Once upon a time, I had a pretty awkward and comical date in Santa Monica. I was new-ish to Los Angeles and decided to try out a dating site that was famous for its robust matching algorithms. However, on this particular evening on Pico Boulevard, their matching science was, well, not so robust.
I probably should have known something was awry when the handsome maitre d' wished me "good luck" in a distinct, you're-gonna-need-it kind of tone before taking me to the table where my date was already seated.
In lieu of a warm salutation, my date stood up, scanned me from toes to head (yes, in that particular order), and proclaimed with some audible disappointment, "You're taller than your dating app profile said." I replied, "It's nice to meet you too" like any gracious Southern lady would, and proceeded to sit my tall self down. (I'm actually a not-so-tall 5-feet-6-inches, but as my dating profile clearly stated, "I like to wear heels," so you know...do the math.)
The rest of that date could inspire a Saturday Night Live skit, but allow me to cut to the nutrition-relevant chase (since this article is about nutrition principles for a long and healthy life—I promise).
A nutrition Ph.D.'s long-range nutrition philosophy.
After asking my date the obligatory question about what he did for work, I kept the convo flowing by sharing that I was a dietitian and nutrition research scientist. As with lots of strangers, my occupation immediately inspired my date to share his personal foraging and dietary practices with no prompting at all.
Specifically, he shared that since he works best in the wee hours of the morning, he eats supper at around 2 a.m. Rotating between three particular fast food joints, he picks up the food earlier in the day and refrigerates it to enjoy later (you know, at 2 a.m.). To be clear, he does not work a night-shift job. He then went on to say with adamance that he did not like or consume fruits, vegetables, fish, or most "healthy stuff." Why? His rationale: "Life is too short. I'll worry about eating healthy later."
While the daily video gaming and other hobbies he mentioned were never going to fit with my interests and use of time, his eating habits specifically were sounding alarm bells in my dietitian head. Given his nutrient-depleted diet, it took me everything not to convert our date into an emergency nutrition counseling session that at least covered vitamin C, omega-3s, and fiber for everyone's sake. (OK, I'm 80% joking).
You see, our nutrition philosophies and game plans for the long term were categorically opposed. I threw a bright yellow mental penalty flag down on the dating field and called it quits (in my mind of course—after all, I needed to finish my salmon and vegetables first!).
And while a date might just be a date, its future potential certainly plays a role in deciding whether to prolong said dating journey. The longevity of our hypothetical relationship was doomed for a variety of dating site algorithm failures, but like any research-minded Ph.D. nutritionist might ruminate (OK, maybe just me): This man's lack of actual longevity potential flashed before my eyes as his shocking nutrient-lacking lifestyle was revealed.
It was like he had zero dollars in his nutrition 401(k) account, and I'm sorry, but that just doesn't add up to a lengthy partnership.
Healthspan is not fixed (it's malleable!).
Whether you're looking for a good nutrition life match or simply cooking dinner for yourself, do we actually know what constitutes longevity food? And do we have the luxury to worry about eating healthy later, as my date suggested? The science is quite clear on that: Nope. At least not if the goal of living on this earth is thriving (instead of just surviving).
Regardless of your life stage, now is always the time to prioritize nutrition and other healthy lifestyle practices (i.e., restful sleep, physical activity, healthy body composition, smoking cessation, moderate or scant alcohol consumption, etc.). But is starting earlier best? Absolutely.
And as it turns out, we even know that certain patterns of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients (i.e., plant bioactives) and their timing of consumption are tied to longer healthspan.
It's so important to note that healthspan is malleable! Like the ultimate alley-oop basketball move: Your genes might be the setup, but nutrition is definitely the follow-through. Suboptimal nutrition can be a weak-sauce layup that barely makes it into the net, while a nutrient-dense lifestyle is like a fabulously confident dunk with some impressive hang time.
Smart nutrition: the ultimate power play for longevity.
That's because nutrients are fabulously multifunctional. Aside from being delicious, nutrition has the ability to positively affect so many physiological pathways and outcomes. Here are just a few that come to mind:
- boots-on-the-ground antioxidant fighting power against oxidative stress via an array of antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from plants (fruits, vegetables, herbs, and more)
- anti-inflammatory marine omega-3s for resolution of inflammatory pathways
- prebiotic fibers and probiotic microbes for robust gut health
- 24/7 cellular cleanup and rejuvenation activities like detoxification and autophagy (think glutathione, milk thistle, CoQ10, etc.)
- adaptogens and nootropics for mental resilience and cognitive performance
- normocaloric intake of plant-centric carbs, proteins, and fats within a defined intermittent fasting window (e.g., 12 hours each day) for healthy body composition and cardiometabolic health
- intricate interplay of food and nutritional bioactives with your genes and DNA via precision nutrition solutions (e.g., for MTHFR gene variants) and epigenetic mechanisms
Smart nutrition is like a strategic biohacking strategy you tap into daily to thrive for the long haul. A recent, comprehensive research review1 examined this fascinating area of longevity nutrition, so you'll want to check out the highlights and key nutritional pillars that represent a literal investment in your future.
Longevity nutrition is core to mbg philosophy, too.
Of course, if you've read mindbodygreen content for any period of time, you'll probably know the pragmatic power of nutrition for health and longevity. This is not just something we cover in a journalistic sense. Longevity nutrition is actually core to the mindbodygreen philosophy, our portfolio of products, and the way we live.
From the 30 trillion cells that make up the human body, to how we look and feel—the fact is the amounts, types, and timing of nutrients and phytonutrients we choose to consume are absolutely pivotal to our health today and tomorrow. Nutrition isn't sitting on the sidelines. It's a versatile quarterback calling the plays.
Whether that "play" is to keep your brain sharp as a tack, maintain strong muscles and bones, promote insulin sensitivity and blood glucose balance, elevate gut microbial abundance and diversity, bolster your resilience to stressors, ensure your immune defenses are game for inevitable challenges that will come, or nurture collagen production—ultimately, these are all longevity plays, individually and collectively. They all rely on smart nutrition rooted in science.
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN is Vice President of Scientific Affairs at mindbodygreen. Ashley received her B.A. in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania (along with a double minor in Nutrition and Music) and Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Georgia. Her research contributions span vitamin D, cardiometabolic health, bone density, and weight management. Ferira is a nutrition scientist and dietitian with experience in nutrition product innovation and development, scientific affairs, education, communications, and SEO writing for global firms, including Nature Made, Metagenics, Three Ships, and mindbodygreen.
In addition to her mindbodygreen contributions, Ferira is published in Health, Metagenics Institute, American Family Physician, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and Osteoporosis International. She has a passion for the translation of evidence-based science into innovative and high-quality products and information that help people lead healthier lives. She is a believer in compassionate, informed, and personalized approaches to nutrition, health care, and wellness. Ashley lives in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina, where she was born and raised. Whether savoring an orchestral performance or delectable meal at a local restaurant, you will find her enjoying Charleston’s cultural and culinary arts with family and friends.