Surbhi Agarwal, MD
Given recent controversies in nutrition science, how much can we really say with confidence about the relationship between nutrition and aging?
Nutrition and aging go together hand in hand. Healthy aging is the new focus these days. What we eat affects the way we age. Aging doesn’t just mean wrinkled skin: it also affects our ability to walk, communicate, remember and do different tasks. As we age, our bodies’ nutritional requirements change. Lack of these nutrients in our diet can result in memory loss, brittle bones, tooth loss and more. If we eat lots of carbohydrates and the wrong kinds of high fat foods, we can cause macromolecular damage within our cells, causing the aging process to speed up. Nutritional interventions that reduce such damage (or that help repair damage) can lead to greater longevity and can help in reducing age related diseases. What we eat in childhood affects the growth and development of the body as we age. Numerous studies over the years have been done to show the same effects in animals.
Various fasting protocols are often touted as having rejuvenating effects. What’s your opinion of fasting as it relates to aging?
Calorie restriction (or dietary restriction, as it is called) is basically a reduced intake of nutritional calories without malnutrition, and it has been shown to enhance the maintenance of biological systems and to increase lifespan. Theories suggest this process can help burn the excess fat, heal your DNA and prolong your life. Weight loss happens because the body first burns off carbs and then burns off stored fat to produce glucose.
I believe if you fast too much and for too many days, it can cause mind and body fatigue because of lack of glucose. If you fast frequently, your body resting metabolic rate decreases, because the body goes into a defense mode to protect itself and to preserve energy. Your muscles enough when you fast, because they try to preserve energy, and this can cause muscle loss. So you are cranky, moody, and no one likes you, and you don’t like doing anything since any activity uses energy! So I believe it is good to fast once in a while, it should not be overdone.
Biochemically, do the wrong foods speed up the aging process?
Yes, they do.
There are 3 types of foods everyone is familiar with: carbs, fats and proteins. People associate carbs with sugar. Eating too much sugar over many years can turn your skin dull and wrinkled. Sugar causes havoc on collagen and elastin, which keeps your skin firm and elastic by combining with protein found in skin, making what is called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs can hasten the body’s aging process. Eating too many carbs can cause weight gain, making you susceptible to chronic diseases and speeding up the aging process.
Trans fats found in processed hydrogenated vegetables oils increase inflammation in your body, increase endothelial dysfunction and increase risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Trans fats appear to suppress the responsiveness of a protein that controls the growth and differentiation in cells. Trans fats can also decrease HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and increase LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), thus possibly increasing risk of cardiovascular events.
Avoid carbohydrates in excess. Do not eat too much rice, pasta, and refined carbs–such as sugar, sodas, candies, cookies and cakes.
Aside from “eating well,” what other behaviors do you recommend for anti-aging?
Do aerobic exercise four times a week for 30-45 min each time. Include strength training involving different muscle groups in your workout. Replacing muscle with fat helps with metabolic flexibility and insulin sensitivity. Engage in mental exercises involving strategy, focus and memory on a daily basis.
What do you, personally, eat, and why?
I eat three meals a day. Don’t skip breakfast is my motto, and I believe a decent breakfast includes some carb, some protein and some fat to ensure satiation and prevents unhealthy snacking urges later.
Normally, in the morning, I eat a boiled egg, whole wheat bread and low fat milk—and, possibly, some oatmeal. I carry two fruits with me to work and snack on them during the day to ensure that I’m getting my daily vitamins from fruits. I like to take a small lunch—for instance, vegetables, pasta, lentils with noodles or an Indian wraps. The trick is small meals—controlled portions!
NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley
212 South Division Street
Peekskill, NY 10566
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