EpiNutrients – Anti-aging food.
Anti-aging is a popular topic today, especially among biohackers.
Have you heard about epinutrients? Probably not and it’s no wonder, it’s barely talked about in research papers even though there is extensive research on them. My spellcheck does not even recognize the word epinutrients. Epinutrients control how our genes and DNA functions and are expressed in your body. Meaning they can change your genes, you are not stuck with the genes you were born with.
Food has such a powerful effect on our health and lifespan, its not just energy that food provides — food also communicates, its information to our cells, its medicine, and its community. Whole foods are the root of good health, your body rebuilds itself from what you eat every day. What do you want to build your body with? Chemical laden dead food? Or vibrant fruits and vegetables, real food?
Epinutrients are plant compounds such as folate and quercitin that turn on genes that make us stronger or younger and turn off bad genes that accelerate aging. For example it is food that makes a bee a queen bee or a worker bee, not genetics or being born to the “right” family. Royal jelly is fed to a bee to make it become a queen bee, epinutrients are human’s royal jelly.
Epinutrients work their magic through methylation. Methylation is a chemical reaction that occurs in every cell and tissue in the body. Chemically speaking, methylation is the process of adding methyl groups to a molecule. A ‘methyl group’ is a chemical structure made of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms. It is a vitally important biochemical process in the body that is widespread and helps regulate the activity of our cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detox systems, among many other systems and functions in the body.
Balanced methylation = slow aging both mentally and physically. Methylation protects our telomeres, it is methylation that turns on the good genes and turns off the bad genes. However you want a balance in methylation — not too much or too little for optimal health. This is where food is powerful — pills that push methylation too high can make one over-methylate and increase the risk for cancer.
Whole foods balance methylation in the body via several mechanisms like proving antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and supporting detoxification. What you eat, drink, and do makes you older or younger. We don’t need expensive drugs or extreme interventions such as days or weeks fasting, instead we need sleep, to move our bodies a little, and eat real foods. Just give your body what it needs without beating over its head with harsh eating rules or pharmaceuticals and synthetic hormones.
Whole foods contain compounds like catechins in green tea and chocolate, cur cumin in turmeric, luteolin in celery, resveratrol from grapes, choline in eggs, betaine from beets, and quercitin from many different vegetables.
The functional medicine doctors have been highlighting foods with these compounds and finding the most nutritious foods to focus on while maintaining variety in your diet.
Foods can be methylation donors or methylation adaptogens. Donors provide the ingredients, and the latter directs those ingredients to the right places. The most important methyl donors are vitamin B12 and folate (NOT FOLIC ACID which is synthetic and half the population can’t even use it). Methylation foods are largely flavonoids (polyphenols) and nutrients. Examples of flavonoids are the curcumin, EGCG from green tea, and rosmarinic acid from rosemary among many more. Nutrients would include Vitamins A, C, D3, and certain molecules involved in the krebs cycle.
Foods harness the body’s wisdom to remove methyl groups where they are causing harm and leave them where they do good. It’s important to realize we don’t need super high doses, we need small synergistic doses of many different flavonoids and nutrients — it’s not just one magical molecule but a combination of them working together.
Many flavonoids are also senolytics, senolytics inhibit the accumulation of senescent cells or dead zombie cells as they are referred to in the literature that cause inflammatory damage body wide. When cells age poorly they turn into these zombie cells that can no longer do their job in the body. Normal cells plan their exit and expire with grace, zombie cells roam around the body sending out chemical messages of aging and injury. The good news is certain phytonutrients (plant nutrients) encourage the body to purge itself of zombie cells. Quercitin is one of the power hitters in this department.
Much of this research I got from following Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, and her book Younger You, Jeffrey Bland and various articles and recipes on his blog at Big Bold Health among other functional medicine doctors.
There are MANY whole foods that support these processes in the body, I’m going to highlight the superstars:
- Folate found in leafy greens, asparagus, mushrooms, eggs, poultry, sunflower seeds, rosemary, sage, cilantro, and many more.
- Vitamin B12 – not only essential for the brain, and methylation, B12 helps give us energy by improving mitochondrial health. Best B12 sources are seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, liver, fish, beef, eggs, poultry, nutritional yeast, and more. Most nutritional yeast is supplemented with folic acid, try to find nutritional yeast without added folic acid.
- Betaine – betaine can also be converted to folate. Betaine sources include beets, spinach, egg yolks, liver, sunflower seeds and more.
- Choline is especially good for the brain, it is involved in making neurotransmitters our body uses to get its messages sent, helps keep the fats in our body healthy (helps them to not oxidize), and is essential for brain function and cognitive development. Sources include egg yolks, cauliflower, seaweed, shiitake and maiitake mushrooms, liver, flaxseeds, fish, and more.
- EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) – all teas (green, white, oolong, and black), berries, apples, plums, avocado, pear, and nuts.
- Curcumin – sources turmeric and curries.
- Rosmarinic acid is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it also optimizes our methylation processes. ROSEMARY IS THE NEW TURMERIC. I use rosemary from teas to cooking in some way most every day. It is a powerful food and medicine. I also chop fresh rosemary finely and mix it in lava salt (sea salt with charcoal) and use it as a finishing salt at the table. Other foods sources that have rosemarinic acid include mint, thyme, sage, oregano, basil, lemon balm, marjoram and more. Think herbal teas! I make a turmeric, ginger, black pepper tea every morning, and an herbal tea from my garden every evening.
- Quercitin – a potent senolytic that slows down the aging process and is readily available in many foods, here are a few: apples, berries, broccoli, cocoa, capers, chia seeds, leafy greens, onions, pomegranate, fenugreek, cinnamon, basil, dill, and more. Note roundup and other herbicides and pesticides kill many of these nutrients in our foods. Eating organic is important.
- Quercitin is underrated! It is a powerhouse nutrient that directly benefits immune health by protecting immune cells and helping them to mount a more effective immune defense, while keeping the immune system in balance protecting you from auto-immunity. Quercitin is superfood for your friendly gut bacteria where it helps to improve brain health as well as your immune system, contributing to cognitive benefits. Quercitin also works with your mitochondria improving energy production.
- Iron – we need a balance with iron, not too much or it becomes inflammatory in the body and not too little or we have no energy and weak breath. Good balancing sources of iron are spinach, tomatoes, liver, salmon, beef, legumes, cashews, dark chocolate, and more. Eating a vitamin C rich food with foods higher in iron helps your body absorb the iron.
- Vitamin A – helps our stem cells reprogram and grow into the cells our body needs. It is a fat soluble vitamin and will be best absorbed if eaten with fats. Liver and eggs contain the preformed vitamin A whereas many of the colorful foods containing carotenoids (like beta carotene) are precursors to vitamin A. Precursors are sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, carrots, grapefruit, orange tomatoes, broccoli, dark leafy greens and more.
- Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin is essential for overall health, immunity, and optimal aging. Best sources: sunshine, salmon, sardines, liver, egg yolks, turkey, chicken, and mushrooms that get exposed to the sun.
- Vitamin C a well known antioxidant, it also works with vitamin A to increase stem cell reprogramming. Best sources are kiwis, citrus, strawberries, red bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, apples, spinach and many more.
NO you can not just supplement! Supplementing with individual nutrients just does not work.
When we isolate what we think are the one or two best nutrients we lose the benefit of synergistic interactions between the myriad components found in whole foods. And we are creating risks in the body, one plant component extracted from the whole and eaten in much larger amounts than you find it in foods leads to side-effects. Plant compounds work synergistically; take an apple for example. If you eat the whole apple including the seeds that contain cyanide the cyanide is naturalized by the other plant components, whereas if you extract the cyanide and eat it, you die. While isolating something like curcumin from turmeric might not make you die, it is not as effective as using the whole turmeric rhizome or powder. In fact studies show when you extract the curcumin from turmeric what remains is even a more potent anti-inflammatory! Combining whole foods providing many low dose nutrients is more effective than a single high dose nutrient. We just don’t need Herculean doses of plant nutrients.
Also high doses of a single nutrient can strongly influence epigenetic expression for better or worse! Taking a high dose nutrient runs the risk of over-methylating and nudging you in the wrong direction. Food provides the right nutrients in the right combinations, in the right amounts — called orthomolecular nutrition — is the safest and best ally for your health. They are smarty plants!
We want variety in our diets, so while I am highlighting some power foods that are higher than others in epinutrients you will want to eat a variety of foods, especially herbs and vegetables.
Eating seasonally will insure you get more variety in your diet, and it’s more beneficial. Nature provides what we need when our body’s need it, eating seasonally gets you more of the nutrients you need in any particular season. Also, eating seasonally:
- The produce will be more nutrient dense because its more likely to be local and not picked early and flown long distances.
- Less environmental impact too for the same reason.
- Local, seasonal produce is cheaper because there is more abundance of it in its season
- Beneficial bacteria come from the soil, when you eat local produce you get more of the beneficial bacteria that you need because is geographical area varies in its microbiome along with the people who live on the land.
Make it a goal each day to make an herbal tea and eat vegetables from each of these categories:
- 1-3 cups leafy greens
- 1-3 cups cooked cabbage vegetables (turnips, cabbage of all types, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, and more)
- 1-3 cups non-starchy vegetables (such as carrots, celery, green beans, radishes, okra, etc.)
Some of the foods that contain several different epinutrients that were listed above include:
- sunflower seeds
- leafy greens
- herbs – all
- cacao / dark cholcolate
Pestos are a good way to get herbs into your diet, here are some pesto recipes for you to experiment with. I make pesto from many different herbs and vegetables.
Here is a delicious recipe that uses many of the foods listed above and lots of herbs; Parmesan herbed fish with herbed beans.
This blog follows up on the power of herbs and spices; Spice Up!
And this is a blog I wrote on the importance of eating a colorful diet; Eating the rainbow is not phoo-phoo advice.