Triage theory, phytonutrients, circadian clocks… such is the stuff of cooking for longevity — at least according to a recent episode of KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny. The show featured Rebecca Katz, author of the new cookbook, “The Longevity Kitchen” and doctors from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, a Marin-based research organization.
Each guest made their own case for the connection between food and a longer, healthier life.
“The TOR pathway and the insulin signaling pathway, are the two major pathways which are the nutrient signaling pathways…the idea is that these two pathways that interact and are critical for the growth of an organism are also turning out to be critically important in slowing age-related diseases, and also lifespan.”
Kapahi’s colleague and founder of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Dale Bredesen, used “the triage theory” to explain the role of food choices in longevity:
“The idea of triage theory is simple: that if your body is limited in any specific nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and about 80 percent of us in the U.S. are low in something, be it magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, you can go on and on — then in fact your body triages that and uses it for short term survival and procreation at the expense of longevity.”
Katz’s explanation points to the study of “epigenetics,” what she defines as the study of “the factors affecting genetic expression.” From her book:
“We’ve learned that almost every process in the human body, including the creation of most disease states, involves the interplay of anywhere from three to more than a dozen genes. Eventually, we’ll tease out the interplay within these complex relationships and learn how to work the produce aisle to restore order on a systems level. But for now, we’re making some good inroads. As researchers have learned more and more of the genetic, metabolic, and cellular causes of disease, they’ve also figured out which nutrients can turn those processes around.”
As interesting as the science is, Katz emphasized on air and in her book that what is most useful to people is knowing what to eat. Her book is organized by foods rather than by nutrients because, as she said,
“I’m not going to send people to the market looking for glutathione. But I will send them to the market looking for asparagus.”
Katz has compiled a “culinary pharmacy,” listing the health benefits of foods from allspice (antimicrobial, digestive support) to yogurt (digestive support, immune health). Her book also contains the “Super 16” a list of foods that not only have high levels of antioxidants, but are also “premier sources of healthy omega-3 fats, probiotics, and other body boosting phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.” In other words, they offer good nutritional bang for the bite.
- At the top of the Super 16 list is asparagus. Katz said “it has a lot of fiber, which is wonderful for us, and it has what’s called the super antioxidant, glutathione, which we lose as we age.”
- Avocados also made the cut, which Katz recommends whipping “into an incredible guacamole with mint and pomegranate seeds.”
- Basil and mint are in the Super 16 and “are things that we can so easily incorporate into our diet,” said Katz. “They’re anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and they have so many phytonutrients.”
- And for those of you who are fans of the Mediterranean Diet, let’s not forget coffee, dark chocolate and olive oil.
- The discussion on eating for longevity didn’t stop at ingredients. Bredesen says that it’s critical not to eat three hours before going to sleep.
Kapahi cited a study were two groups of mice we’re given the same amount of food but at different times — one group was fed at night and the other during the day. The group fed at night became obese.
“One of the things that is becoming clearer is the importance of circadian clocks and circadian rhythms in our eating habits,” said Kapahi. “Food itself is a signal for our clocks. So if you eat at nighttime you’re telling the liver to actually wake up and that sets everything out of sync. And that we found is really detrimental for health span and increases incidents of cancer and diabetes.”
“In India and in a number of other countries, food is medicine,” said Bredesen. “I think this is something that’s come to our country surprisingly late. In the U.S., food has become fun. Food has become immediacy — if you get that drive-thru you can get more done, but in fact we’re learning that India has been right all along that food is medicine.”
Listen to KQED’s Forum: How to Eat for a Longer Life Original Broadcast: Thursday, Mar 7, 2013 — 10:00 AM Get recipes, including Insanely Good Chocolate Brownies and Roasted Asparagus Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts are posted on the Forum episode page.
Get recipes for Layered Frittata with Leeks, Swiss Chard, and Tomatoes and Herby Turkey Sliders: