Do our bodies judge our food choices?


Some of us ‘eat to live’, others ‘live to eat’, but a new study suggests that our bodies might determine whether our ‘survival’ or our ‘lifespan’ is to be prioritised from what we eat, depending upon the supply of nutrients our body receives. This sparked my interest, as it suggests a new way our lifespans might be shortened by food choices, even when we think we are making smart eating decisions.

This was brought home to me further by a recent report of a man who ended up needing a liver transplant after taking green tea capsule dietary supplements. When Jim McCants started taking green tea pills he had hoped he was giving his health a boost. Yet it appears the pills caused such serious damage to his liver that it required an urgent transplant.

So, as a firm believer in prioritising nutrition from real food first, and only taking supplements when needed, I set myself a task of considering this new review from the perspective of the foods it seems to suggest we need to incorporate into our diets.

Eating for longevity and not just survival

The review is called Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins and proposes that proteins/enzymes be classified into two classes – one for survival/reproduction, one for long-term health. More simply put, there are survival proteins and longevity proteins. It seems even a modest deficiency of one of the nutrients triggers a built-in rationing mechanism that favours the proteins needed for immediate survival and reproduction while sacrificing those needed to protect against future damage. This can accelerate the risk of diseases associated with aging.

So, it is suggested an improved diet of real food, along with appropriate supplementation, could reduce much of the risk of chronic disease and premature aging, with over 30 vitamins sustaining longevity. Key nutrients include vitamin K, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and selenium, contributing to the processes that keep the cells in our bodies healthy. These nutrients play many roles in the body, including repairing DNA, maintaining cardiovascular health, and preventing cellular damage due to oxidative stress, the scientist argues, with vitamins and essential minerals, taken at adequate doses, helping extend a person’s lifespan and ensure healthy ageing.

The author also proposed that nutrients required for the function of longevity proteins constitute a class of vitamins that he named “longevity vitamins”, suggesting that many such nutrients play a dual role for both survival and longevity. So, the article reviews the evidence for classifying taurine as a conditional vitamin, as well as the following 10 compounds as putative longevity vitamins: the fungal antioxidant ergothioneine; the bacterial metabolites pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) and queuine; and the plant antioxidant carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, and the marine carotenoid astaxanthin.

Foods for longevity

This is my real food list of delivering the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients mentioned:

Vitamin K – green leafy vegetables, parsley, cauliflower and cabbage.

Vitamin D – sunshine, fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna and salmon, eggs and cheese.

Omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, trout, herring, nuts and seeds.

Magnesium – figs, avocado, leafy green vegetables, legumes such as chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans.

Selenium – Brazil nuts, seafood, poultry and soy products.

Calcium – milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines and almonds.

Taurine – beef, lamb, dark chicken meat and seaweed.

Ergothioneine – liver, kidney beans, oats and oyster mushrooms.

Pyrroloquinoline quinone – legumes, potatoes, parsley, tomatoes, apples and banana.

Lutein – peas, kale, spinach and parsley.

Zeaxanthin – cooked spinach, egg yolks, grapes and squash.

Lycopene – tomatoes, papaya and watermelon.

Alpha-carotene – pumpkin, carrots and winter squash.

Beta-carotene – sweet potatoes, cantaloupe melon, apricots and carrots.

Beta-cryptoxanthin – red peppers, paprika, cinnamon, papaya and oranges.

Astaxanthin – yeast, salmon, krill and trout.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that what is being described are many of the key elements of a Mediterranean diet. Which in turn brings us to the most important truism: if we eat a balanced and varied diet this should provide most individuals with all the nutrition we require to keep us healthy. Supplements can have their place, and while in the UK they are subject to EU regulations concerning their safety it is wrong to assume that they do not sometimes have the potential to be harmful, especially if taken above their recommended level – just because something might be good for you it doesn’t mean more will be better! This is even true of real food, which is why balance and variety is so important, for both survival and longevity.  

Make eating real food Just Routine

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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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