Of course, many factors can affect healthy aging. However, according to Dr. Bland, the number one tip to keep in mind when it comes to eating for longevity is consuming a wide variety of plants regularly.
We had the chance to catch up with the self-proclaimed father of functional medicine to learn more about why it’s imperative to eat plants regularly, which are the best ones to include in your diet, and some common misconceptions when it comes to plant-forward eating.
- Jeffrey Bland, PhD, clinical biochemist and co-founder of Institute for Functional Medicine
Why plants are so important for boosting longevity
According to Dr. Bland, the more plants you can add to your diet, the better. “Plants contain what are known as phytochemicals and fibers that are not found in animal products. Recent advances in nutritional science have shown the important health benefits of both of these nutrient families that can be gotten only by eating plant foods,” Dr. Bland says.
“Plants contain what are known as phytochemicals and fibers that are not found in animal products. Recent advances in nutritional science have shown the important health benefits of both of these nutrient families that can be gotten only by eating plant foods,” Dr. Bland says.
In a 2021 study published by Dr. Bland, he shares how phytochemicals—chemical compounds found in plants—act not only as antioxidants but, more specifically, as "selective modulators of signal transduction" (aka regulate cell activity). In short, this means phytochemicals play a role in cells’ oxidative levels. “These phytochemicals in plant foods have been found to have positive impacts on the body’s immune system and health of the intestinal microbiome as well as help to protect the brain against inflammation,” he says.
In addition to phytochemicals, Dr. Bland notes the importance of fiber when it comes to boosting longevity. According to the same study, dietary intake of phytochemicals, probiotic fibers, and the bacterial composition of the microbiome are interconnected and play a significant role in health. What’s more, the research shows a significant, positive link between polyphenols, prebiotic fibers, omega-3 fatty acids, and the composition of the intestinal microbiome that supports healthy immune functioning.
What are the best plants to eat for longevity?
Indeed, there are hundreds of plants to choose from—which can be overwhelming at times. That said, Dr. Bland encourages folks to include as many different types as whenever possible. When grocery shopping, he notes that it’s important to opt for plants in lesser-processed forms, and the more colorful, the better. “All plants in their natural state have color from white to black. It’s the substances in these plants that give them their colors that have been found to have their own unique influence on our health,” Dr. Bland says.
Dr. Bland also notes that a well-balanced diet featuring many different plants also provides various types of prebiotic fiber to help nourish the microbiome. To ensure you get enough in your diet, his general rule is to consume five to seven portions of vegetables and fruits daily to reap the most health benefits and reduce the risk of age-related chronic illnesses.
More specifically, Dr. Bland recommends a balanced diet (primarily made up of plants), including foods like whole grains, beans, root vegetables, gluten-free cereals (like buckwheat and oatmeal), whole fruit, lean cuts of meat, fresh fish, and minimally processed oils like virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, and omega-3 oils (from cold-water fish such as salmon, cod, or sardines).
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