We now have evidence that eating more fruits and vegetables is directly related to having longer telomeres — which helps to slow the aging process.
When shoelace tips break down, the laces become frayed until they can no longer do their job. The same is true for telomeres — when they erode, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job.
Telomere length is maximum at birth and decreases progressively with age, influenced by oxidative stress, inflammation, and repeated cell replication over the course of your life. Shorter telomeres are associated with higher incidence of chronic disease and all-cause mortality.
If you want to slow the aging process, you need to keep your telomeres intact.
A recent large study showed that the more servings of fruits and vegetables you consume, the longer your telomeres tend to be.
The study looked at a random sample of 5448 US adults (average age of 46.5 years old) and found that telomeres were 27.8 base pairs longer for each 100g (3.5 ounces) of fruits and vegetables consumed per day. That equates to 1.9 years less biological aging, according to the researchers.
When comparing people who consumed the most fruits and vegetables per day (in this study, that was at least 264 g/day, or roughly 3.5 servings per day) to those who consumed virtually none, the difference was 4.4 years of cellular aging.
These results were found even after factoring in age, gender, race, BMI, alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical activity.
The findings mentioned were for men and women combined, but there were some notable differences for men vs. women. For women, fruits and vegetables were each associated with improved biological aging. Whereas for men, vegetable intake was related to increased telomere length, but fruit consumption was not. The reason for this isn’t clear, but for both sexes vegetable intake had a more robust relationship with telomere length than fruit.
Additionally, for both genders, intake of potatoes and legumes was not related to telomere length, when analyzed separately from other vegetables.
This is the latest study to show that what you eat directly relates to telomere length and cellular aging. Previous studies have shown that nuts and seeds and dietary fiber are both associated with longer telomeres and decreased biological aging. Sugar-sweetened soda, on the other hand, is predictive of shorter telomeres.
This current study only looked at fruit and vegetable consumption — both including and excluding potatoes and legumes — but did not factor in other foods. It should be noted that people who eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables typically also consume other ‘healthy’ foods such as whole grains, nuts, and seeds, which could explain some of the positive results.
Overall these findings support increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption, with a specific emphasis on vegetables.
The World Health Organization recommends eating at least 400g (equivalent to 5 portions of 80g each) of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes and other starchy roots.
Studies have shown that all-cause mortality drops 5–6% for each daily serving of fruits and vegetables, with a threshold of about 5 servings per day.
Other research has demonstrated that the highest risk reduction is seen with 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, more seems to be better.
In terms of which fruits and vegetables to eat, you should aim for a wide and colorful variety, but in general favor low-glycemic and non-starchy options. Dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and berries are some of the best.
I like to hit my daily fruit and vegetable goal by eating a bowl of mixed berries in the morning (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries) followed by a big salad for lunch. That fills my daily quota before even getting to dinner (although I usually have another serving of veggies with dinner as well).
If you want to slow the biological clock, find the fruits and vegetables you like most and incorporate them frequently into your daily diet.