21.04.2024

Nutritionist GABRIELA PEACOCK reveals science-backed food secrets that can slow the ageing process

When you see someone whose clear unlined skin and sense of youthful vitality seem to defy their true age, it is easy to think, ‘Good genes’. But although there’s a strong genetic factor in the ageing process, the science shows there is so much we can all do to turn back the clock.

In yesterday’s Daily Mail I introduced my innovative eating plan, which incorporates well-researched principles for encouraging enhanced renewal and repair in every cell of your body.

Follow the special two-week plan I’ve created for The Mail+, which includes the delicious recipes in yesterday’s Weekend magazine and today’s YOU magazine, as well as many more, and you will be fuelling your body with all the powerfully effective nutrients it needs to put the ageing process into reverse.

The success of my plan is founded on the scientific principles of nudging your body into a mild form of cellular stress called ‘hormesis’, which triggers a chemical chain of reactions called ‘autophagy’ that cleverly speeds up the clearing-out of old cells and stimulates the production of new cells to boost resilience, energy levels, thinking power and vitality.

I recommend carefully balanced days of calorie restriction and time-restricted eating (shrinking your eating window to eight hours each day)

I recommend carefully balanced days of calorie restriction and time-restricted eating

I recommend carefully balanced days of calorie restriction and time-restricted eating (shrinking your eating window to eight hours each day), as well as hot and cold therapies (saunas and cold showers) and regular exercise to create a state of hormetic stress.

I also suggest filling your plate with plant-based foods such as berries, rocket, kale, walnuts, green tea and dark chocolate, which deliver their powerful stress-protective polyphenols straight into our cells.

Follow the guiding principles of my lifestyle plan and you will slow the ageing process immediately, wave goodbye to fatigue and ill-health and start to look and feel younger – fast.

But my new book, 2 Weeks To A Younger You, is also packed with tips and tricks to speed your route to age-reversal, so if you really want to turbo-charge this plan, why not cherry-pick a few of my favourites below, and watch the years drop away before your eyes?

Why mushrooms are magic for de-stressing

While targeted forms of beneficial stress form the basis of my powerfully effective plan, it is important to note you can easily de-rail your progress if you let the wrong kind of stressors rise to the fore.

Many of us live in a constant bubbling state of emotional pressure, which can be exhausting and miserable and plays a huge role in the ageing process.

A constant stream of the stress hormone cortisol not only leads to an endless feeling of anxiety and worry but it can affect everything from quality of sleep and energy levels to hormone balance, mental health, nutritional deficiencies and weight gain, which collectively impact how the body ages.

Breathing exercises (such as breathing in for the count of four, hold for seven counts, then breathing out for the count of eight) can be an excellent way to slow the heart rate and decrease anxiety, but if you’re prone to emotional stress, mushrooms – either in powdered or supplement form – can really help to mitigate the ageing effects.

Many forms of mushroom, and some herbs (such as ashwagandha) contain natural substances called ‘adaptogens’ which help our bodies manage stress and restore balance after a stressful situation.

I love these mushrooms so much that I’ve recently added them into my longevity line of supplements.

Rather than pulling out the same punnet of button mushrooms every time you go food shopping, try different varieties on toast or as a side dish, and look out for medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, chaga and lion’s mane.

These are a rich source of a compound called beta-glucan (a prebiotic that feeds intestinal bacteria), which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, helping to reduce oxidative damage and help support the immune system.

Protect your DNA with coffee and green tea

Caffeine can increase the body’s metabolic rate and stimulate the nervous system, which helps to assist healthy weight loss by triggering the release of fatty acids from fat cells, improve focus and elevate mood.

Consuming moderate levels of caffeine while intermittent fasting can also help to ease cravings and keep energy levels buoyant.

But to mitigate any potentially harmful blood-sugar spike, don’t drink too much, and try to always have it with a protein-rich snack or meal (don’t add milk or plant milks if you’re drinking coffee during a fasting phase).

Coffee contains high levels of antioxidants, notably the polyphenol chlorogenic acid, and its many bioactive substances deliver anti-inflammatory properties, reduce insulin resistance and protect against cell damage.

When it comes to longevity, studies have revealed that regularly drinking coffee and tea can actually protect our DNA against neurodegeneration.

Green tea and matcha are my favourite caffeinated teas because they come with a veritable party bag of sirtuin stimulants (which means they stimulate the sirtuin longevity genes in the body) and longevity-supporting antioxidants.

Here’s the good news: Wine is good for you

I love a good glass of wine, so I’m not going to recommend a booze ban on my plan!

In fact, several studies suggest that mild alcohol consumption can be beneficial, and many super-agers live long and healthy lives punctuated by a couple of glasses of wine a night with dinner and friends.

The science shows that wine not only allows for the benefits of a phytochemical called resveratrol (which is found in red wine), but also comes with the association of relaxation and conviviality when time is spent with loved ones.

Resveratrol is a powerful polyphenol, shown to activate sirtuin genes, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, increase energy activity in our cells, boost the metabolism, help balance blood sugar levels and support healthy cognitive function. I’ll drink to that!

At the weekend, to keep consumption during your eight-hour eating window, get together with friends to enjoy a glass of wine with lunch rather than drink in the evening.

Just don’t overdo it. Alcohol can be sugary, full of empty calories and too much can put extra strain on the liver, which upsets the equilibrium of the body and negatively affects the immune system, digestion, mood, sleep and energy levels.

Plus, too much of it can make you put on weight, typically around the midriff. Which is going to nix your good efforts with my eating plan.

Soak up the benefits of a magnesium bath

One super-quick way to make a big difference to how well you sleep is to increase your magnesium intake.

Magnesium comes out on top as the sleep nutrient to rule them all.

Nature’s relaxant, it does numerous jobs around the body, including reducing anxiety, stress and high blood pressure.

Magnesium deficiency is a common problem, so increasing intake can prompt amazing results.

Aim to fill up on magnesium-rich foods (dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, chard, cavolo nero, nuts and seeds, grains such as buckwheat and quinoa, beans, chickpeas, lentils and 70 per cent dark chocolate) and for a bedtime boost, take a relaxing soak in a bath of magnesium chloride flakes.

If you still find it hard to unwind, a bedtime snack of a slice of turkey meat, and a couple of spoons of cottage cheese or live natural yogurt will provide a boost of the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which will calm the brain and aid sleep.

Fish skin and seaweed? They’re snack heaven…

  • Fish skin is sky-high in anti-inflammatory fatty acids. Crisp it up in the oven or a frying pan and crunch it down with salt and olive oil.
  • Boost your omega-3 intake by drizzling hemp seed, flaxseed or pumpkin seed oil over salads or use as a dip for crudités.
  • Switch crisps for olives – they are rich in oleic acid, which activates longevity enzymes.
  • Tuck into seaweed thins to boost levels of iodine which helps the body synthesise thyroid hormones, helping to boost metabolism and energy production, as well as improving cognitive clarity and focus.

Happy gut means a happy life 

Mild digestive issues could be compromising your ability to absorb beneficial nutrients and may be contributing to elevated inflammation levels in your body (which speed up the ageing process), so taking a few steps to get your gut healthy could help maximise the benefits of this plan. Try my FOUR ‘R’ protocol:

Mild digestive issues could be compromising your ability to absorb beneficial nutrients and may be contributing to elevated inflammation levels in your body

Mild digestive issues could be compromising your ability to absorb beneficial nutrients and may be contributing to elevated inflammation levels in your body

REMOVE Identify possible dietary triggers (common culprits include eggs, gluten, dairy and grains, processed meat, refined carbohydrates, sugary foods and drinks, excess alcohol and trans fats) and remove any one food that you think might be triggering an issue and see if digestion improves. If not, keep going until you find the culprit.

REPLACE Support your digestion and boost digestive enzyme levels by including bitter foods in your diet such as rocket, radicchio, artichokes, chicory, dandelion greens and apple cider vinegar.

REINOCULATE Work to improve the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut and restore healthy microbiota by increasing your intake of prebiotics such as leeks, onions, asparagus, bananas, garlic, oats, nuts and seeds and strawberries. You might also like to try a probiotic such as live natural yogurt, kefir, kombucha or sauerkraut. Alternatively, take a probiotic supplement. Look for one containing ten billion CFU of a multi-strain variety.

REPAIR Support the healing of the digestive tract by increasing L-glutamine foods (chicken, beans, spinach, cabbage, fish, tofu, dairy, lentils), and foods with omega 3: oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), seeds and nuts. Also top up on phytonutrient-rich berries, red peppers and beetroot.

Key supplements to speed your progress

Supplements underpin all the good work of a healthy diet and lifestyle, ensuring that nutrient levels are topped up. I couldn’t love them more – so much so that I’ve designed my own supplement line (gpnutrition.com) – and regularly prescribe them to my clients, alongside dietary advice. Think of supplements as a support network: when taken in conjunction with a healthy diet, these concentrated nutrients can make major biochemical improvements within the body.

This antioxidant flavonoid found in many plants such as apples, onions, parsley and tea has been shown to support the ¿battery chargers¿ in our cells

This antioxidant flavonoid found in many plants such as apples, onions, parsley and tea has been shown to support the ‘battery chargers’ in our cells

  • Multi-vitamin Take a good-quality multi-nutrient as a baseline for all-round support and a great foundation for general health. This protects against deficiency in any one nutrient causing an ageing cascade effect throughout the body.
  • B-complex The Bs are key players in helping the body’s energy production cycle and metabolism, keeping us focused and feeling full of vitality. There is exciting research to support the impact of niacin, or vitamin B3, which helps to convert nutrients into energy, repair DNA and exert antioxidant effects. A good B vitamin complex (tablet or capsule) will provide a far more effective boost than an artificial energy drink.
  • Apple cider vinegar A tablespoon each morning helps balance blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity, both of which contribute to healthy weight loss. It also supports liver function and digestive health by normalising stomach pH and promoting healthy microflora in the gut. Try mixing 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric, 200ml (7fl oz) warm water, a squeeze of agave syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper and drinking it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
  • Resveratrol A ‘sirtfood’ found in the skin of dark grapes and red wine. To really boost resveratrol levels (which would take more wine than even I could drink), try taking it in supplement form at a recommended dose of 250–500mg daily. Cutting-edge research is also revealing nutrients that target specific longevity pathways in the body by activating sirtuin genes, which are so important in reversing the ageing process. It is still early days, but this is an incredibly exciting and progressive area of scientific study.
  • Quercetin This antioxidant flavonoid found in many plants such as apples, onions, parsley and tea has been shown to support the ‘battery chargers’ in our cells and help to repair damaged DNA, reduce inflammation, activate longevity genes and help clear old cells.
  • Spermidine Another plant antioxidant known to stimulate the process of cell repair and renewal known as autophagy.
  • Astaxanthin An antioxidant carotenoid found in red algae. It has been shown to upregulate autophagy, and is a strong anti-inflammatory, preserves brain cells, reduces oxidative stress and helps support mitochondrial function in cells.
  • Berberine A bioactive compound found in plants, this has been shown to help balance blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, supporting healthy weight loss. It has antimicrobial properties that improve intestinal microflora and reduce premature cellular senescence.
  • Adapted from 2 Weeks To A Younger You: Secrets To Living Longer And Feeling Fantastic by Gabriela Peacock, published by Kyle Books on May 25 at £25. © Gabriela Peacock 2023. To order a copy for £20 (offer valid to 03/06/23; UK P&P free on orders over £25), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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