Good news for those hopping aboard the plant-based train, or even for folks just regularly incorporating more vegan foods into their diet: “Going on a plant-based diet has a significant impact on aging—and there are a few reasons why. First, plants are a great source of water, and dehydration plays a significant role in your appearance. Dehydration can highlight wrinkles, sallow skin, create bags under your eyes, and even cause weight gain, all of which can impact your appearance and physical well-being, leading to cellular aging,” says Dr. Tricia Pingel, NMD, an Arizona-based naturopathic physician, who also points to this research showing that plant-based diets provide your cells with essential vitamins and minerals and assist in removing carcinogens and toxins to prevent cellular damage.
Can your diet help slow aging?
“Much of the cellular aging process is controlled by your telomeres, which are tiny protein chains that sit at the tips of your DNA strands. I often refer to them as the end caps to your DNA that protect your chromosomes from deteriorating. Basically, the longer your telomeres are, the more protected your DNA strands will be,” she explains. “But as you age, your telomeres automatically shorten. Accordingly, research has shown that longer telomeres are linked to a longer lifespan, a slower aging process, and a lower likelihood of disease.”
As Pingel elaborates, lengthening telomeres can be positively impacted by the consumption of plant-based diets. That’s right, there’s promising evidence that you can eat your way to longevity by adhering to a vegan or predominantly plant-based diet. “One study on over 4,500 women found that those that adhered to a Mediterranean diet (which is highly plant-focused) had longer telomeres than those who did not,” she says. “Another study found that a plant-rich dietary pattern, consumption of seeds (and derivatives), and intake of dietary carotenoids benefitted telomere length and promoted health and longevity.”
Here are 7 foods that can help reverse aging and make you look younger, according to recent scientific studies.
1. Carrots for beta-carotene and vitamin A for healthy skin
“Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which your liver converts into vitamin A. And because vitamin A acts as a powerful antioxidant in your body, it helps to slow down cellular aging—most notably, in your skin,” says Pingel. “Research has shown that vitamin A helps to stimulate new skin cell production. As a result, it’s been shown to help slow the aging process by protecting against the breakdown of collagen — a vital protein in your body required for plump, supple skin.”
There’s more promising research on this front: Studies have also revealed that foods rich in beta-carotene enrich skin health by providing protection against UV damage, which is known to promote aging,” Pingel adds.
2. Avocados to help you get enough omega-3 fatty acids, to fight aging
You don’t have to tell us twice to spoon on some guac, but this intel certainly makes us even more convinced avocados are simply amazing. “Avocados are a fantastic whole-food source of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. And research has shown that people who consume more omega-3s have longer telomeres,” says Pingel. “According to a 2010 study, eating a diet rich in omega-3s helped to reduce the rate of telomere shortening,” she continues, adding that the study also revealed that not consuming enough omega-3s can cause your telomeres to shorten at an accelerated rate. No thanks.
Bonus: “According to one study on 716 women, higher intakes of dietary fat, saturated fat, and monounsaturated fat were significantly associated with increased skin elasticity,” says Pingel.
3. Walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds for clean protein and heart-healthy fat
Okay, we’re grouping these three good-for-you eats together. Though Pingel admits she gives special treatment to avocados, she says you can find the same health-supportive omega-3 fatty acids in many whole plant-based foods, such as walnuts, flax and chia seeds, and more. “Walnuts and seeds are great protein-rich alternatives for processed meats, which have been shown to shorten your telomeres,” she says, backing her claim up with this research.
4. Almonds for fighting wrinkles and protecting skin from UVB
Speaking of walnuts, here’s another nut for which nutrition pros are a big fan: “Almonds can be a delicious addition to your skincare routine. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California found that eating two ounces of almonds daily may help reduce wrinkle width and severity in postmenopausal females, providing a natural anti-aging benefit,” says Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies.
It gets even better when it comes to munching on almonds. “Nutrients that have been found to be helpful in protecting our skin from UVB light (skin burning protection) are mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and quercetin (a flavonoid),” says Smithson. “Think of a handful of almonds as your second layer of protection after you rub on your sunscreen lotion. Almonds contain skin-protecting nutrients from the sun’s rays (read the study for more). Munch on 35 almonds before you head out in the sun,” she continues. We don’t know about you, but eating almonds daily sure sounds like a good idea to us.
5. Lemons to add vitamin C and rebuild skin’s collagen
Pucker up for this good-for-you citrus fruit. “According to a 2007 study, people who consume more vitamin C-rich foods such as lemons were 89 percent less likely to have wrinkles and 93 percent less likely to experience age-related dry skin,” says Pingel, explaining that this is because vitamin C is a building block for collagen production.
“Additionally, a 2019 animal study revealed that lifelong lemon intake provides anti-aging benefits for more than just your skin by increasing lifespan, delaying age-related health concerns, and fighting aging in the gut,” she says.
6. Blueberries with antioxidants to fight oxidation and aging
“Did you know that one cup of blueberries contains 14.4 mg of vitamin C? Accordingly, a 2013 study confirmed that consuming blueberries can actually prevent collagen loss,” offers Pingel.
Pingel also points to a 2018 review “that confirmed that pterostilbene, the primary antioxidant found in blueberries, has beneficial effects as anti-aging compounds by helping to inhibit oxidative damage, inflammation, telomere attrition, and age-related cell deterioration.” For more on blueberries check out this story on why they may just be the healthiest fruit you can eat.
7. Green tea for polyphenols to help skin regenerate
Raise a mug of this healthy beverage. “Green tea contains a polyphenol called EGCG, which is known to promote skin cell rejuvenation,” says Pingel, highlighting that studies have shown that supplementing with green tea extract for eight weeks doubled the length of telomeres in women between the ages of 27 and 48.
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate a healthy, plant-based diet into your day-to-day life, check out our Health and Nutrition articles.