March is National Nutrition Month and the theme is… you guessed it, fueling for the future. Fueling for the future has so many meanings attached to it. Not only do I think of fueling for my personal future, but also for the future of our planet. The beautiful thing is these two goals go hand in hand. As a plant based dietitian, it is my passion to help others make lifestyle changes that lead to sustainable diets that are best for your overall health, and the planets. If you are interested in learning the best foods for longevity of yourself and our planet, keep reading for this dietitian’s guide to fueling for the future.
Best Foods for Longevity of the Brain
Did you know your brain consumes 20% of the total energy you eat from food1? Your brain thrives off of carbohydrates, or carbs, as its primary energy source. Carbs include fruits, vegetables, grains, and starches. Many carbs contain polyphenols, a compound found in plants, which have been shown to improve brain function during the aging process1. Some of my favorite polyphenol rich foods are berries, broccoli, beans, soy products, almonds, walnuts, flax seed, and dark chocolate.
Additional brain supporting nutrients are omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats have been shown to have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects1. Omega-3 fats can be found in food sources like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. DHA is a particular type of omega-3 fat that has repeatedly shown to have protective effects on brain health1. The best source of DHAs are from oily fish such as salmon. My favorite on the go snack is a homemade trail mix with walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and dried fruit. This combination will leave you satisfied and your brain fully fueled.
Lastly, drinking water may seem obvious for longevity, but it is one that is often overlooked. Research shows that dehydration causes a decline in brain function such as short-term memory and mood disturbance2. Proper hydration includes water consumption and a balance of electrolytes. An easy way to determine your daily water needs is to divide your body weight in half, and consume that in ounces per day. For example, if an individual weighs 200 pounds, he or she should consume at least 100 ounces of water each day. Electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride are consumed daily through food, so no stress there!
Reduce Stress for a Healthy Brain
But speaking of stress, chronic stress can cause long term damage to the parts of your brain that respond to stress1. Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to help prevent this damage1. Specifically, meditation has been shown to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, following a stressful event1. Incorporating mindfulness and meditation into your daily routine can help your efforts to improve your long term health. I talk more about mindfulness and meditation here.
Best Foods for Longevity of the Bones
Did you know that adults reach peak bone mass at 30 years old? This means you will achieve the greatest amount of bone mass that you will ever have around 30 years old. Although efforts can be made to maintain bone mass beyond age 30, it is important to maximize your peak. The two key players for bone mass are calcium and vitamin D.
Calcium is found in dairy products, chia seeds, beans, almonds, leafy greens, soy products, and fortified drinks. 99% of our body’s calcium is stored in bone. When we do not consume enough calcium, we force our body to use the calcium from our bones, which weakens them over time. Vitamin D helps our body absorb the calcium we eat in our diet. The main source of vitamin D is from sun exposure, but individuals living in northern latitudes are unable to get vitamin D from the sun during winter months. If this applies to you, the best way to get vitamin D is through fortified foods and supplements during the winter. Try this recipe for a boost in your daily vitamin D and calcium intake.
Movement for Bone Health
In addition to the food sources above, exercise is incredibly important for long term bone health. Both aerobic and weight bearing exercise have been shown to reduce the rate of bone density loss3. Aerobic exercise is more commonly known as “cardio”, or exercise that will increase your heart rate. Brisk walking, swimming, and cycling are some examples of cardio. Weight bearing exercise provides resistance during training, like weight lifting. A combination of weight bearing exercise and cardio throughout the week is most effective for preventing and reversing bone loss.
A personal favorite method to prevent and reverse bone loss during the aging process is yoga. Yoga has been proven to be effective in maintaining bone density and improving balance, posture, range of motion, strength, and coordination4. If you are interested in improving your long term health through yoga, follow my page here.
Best Foods for Longevity of the Heart
Brain and bone health are incredibly important for longevity, but we are missing another important organ, the heart! Fueling for the future must include foods that improve heart health. Studies show that a greater adherence to a plant based diet improves long term heart health5. While this does not mean you have to be 100% plant based to reap the benefits, I have included some tips below to help.
First, include a wide variety of plants in your daily meals. Did you know the color of a fruit or vegetable speaks to the distinct benefit that plant offers? Eating two to three different colors of plants per day can help diversify your diet, improve your long term health, and populate the good gut bugs in the digestive tract.
Second, aim for 25-30 grams of fiber every day. The US Dietary Guidelines recommends this amount to promote longevity. Dietary fiber is a part of plant based foods that cannot be digested by your body. This helps regulate your digestive system, control blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. High fiber foods include berries, apples, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Lastly, healthy fats play an essential role in keeping your heart happy and healthy. Healthy fats help lower your LDL cholesterol, which is known as the “bad” cholesterol. Healthy fats can often be found in plant based foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. These fats are also important in helping you absorb and utilize fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E, and K. Next time you are cooking, replace butter for a healthy fat like avocado or olive oil.
How to Eat for Longevity of the Planet
Fueling for your longevity is only worth the effort if our planet is also healthy. The good news is you can improve your diet in a sustainable way. While fueling for your future, keep the following tips in mind:
- Bring reusable bags to the grocery store
- Store leftovers in glass containers
- Buy foods with minimal packaging
- Reduce food waste by following these food storage tips (link- do you have another blog or a recipe that blends up leftover veggies and stores them as ice cubes or something? Or just frozen food tips?)
- Incorporate at least one plant based meal a day
- Shop locally, when in season
- Eat a variety of foods
- Meal plan and prep
- Participate in your communities recycling and compost programs
You are now an expert on how to take control of fueling for your future, and our planet’s!
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- 1.(Phillips C. Lifestyle Modulators of Neuroplasticity: How Physical Activity, Mental Engagement, and Diet Promote Cognitive Health during Aging. Neural Plast. 2017;2017:3589271. doi:10.1155/2017/3589271)
- 2 (Masento NA, Golightly M, Field DT, Butler LT, van Reekum CM. Effects of hydration status on cognitive performance and mood. Br J Nutr. 2014;111(10):1841-1852. doi:10.1017/S0007114513004455)
- 3. Tong X, Chen X, Zhang S, Huang M, Shen X, Xu J, Zou J. The Effect of Exercise on the Prevention of Osteoporosis and Bone Angiogenesis. Biomed Res Int. 2019 Apr 18;2019:8171897. doi: 10.1155/2019/8171897. PMID: 31139653; PMCID: PMC6500645.
- 4. Fishman LM. Yoga and Bone Health. Orthop Nurs. 2021 May-Jun 01;40(3):169-179. doi: 10.1097/NOR.0000000000000757. PMID: 34004616.
- 5.Salehin S, Rasmussen P, Mai S, Mushtaq M, Agarwal M, Hasan SM, Salehin S, Raja M, Gilani S, Khalife WI. Plant Based Diet and Its Effect on Cardiovascular Disease. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Feb 14;20(4):3337. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20043337. PMID: 36834032; PMCID: PMC9963093.