The idea that food can actually stop you from aging sounds like a pipe dream. While it's true that no amount of broccoli or salmon will stop laugh lines from taking up residence around your mouth and eyes, some foods can reportedly prevent or even reverse aging at a cellular level through a process called autophagy. That's according to health expert, entrepreneur, and author of Glow15 Naomi Whittel, who writes, "It's possible to actually eat your way to longevity through a biological process called autophagy," which means "self-eating." "Autophagy allows your cells to eat away damage, keeping you healthy," she says. This process becomes less efficient as we age, resulting in slowed cell function, a sluggish metabolism, and decreased collagen and elastin production. "The good news [is] … there are compounds in certain foods that aid in autophagy, and they are probably already in your kitchen," she explains on Mindbodygreen. Stock up on the following five foods to curb aging from the inside out.
Eggs are high in a compound called sphingolipids, which are said to aid in the process of autophagy. One study found that these compounds "contain anti-cancer, bacteriostatic and cholesterol-lowering properties." To understand the benefits of sphingolipids, Whittel encourages you to "think of a brick wall. Sphingolipids are like mortar, the sticky substance that holds the bricks together," she writes. "As the wall ages, the mortar can break down, causing the bricks to crumble and the entire structure to lose its strength. But you can keep your mortar strong by eating sphingolipid-rich foods. Doing so will benefit your skin, keeping it fuller, plumper, and smoother."
"Cauliflower [includes] a sulfur-containing compound called sulforaphanes that initiate autophagy by turning up processes that degrade old, abnormal proteins," she writes. "It also behaves as an antioxidant, blocking free radicals from causing damage to cells." She recommends eating cauliflower raw since the cooking process can erode the nutritional value of the vegetable. "If you can't tolerate raw cauliflower, try steaming it for just two or three minutes to ensure you get the maximum amount of nutrients," she adds.
The health benefits of salmon know no bounds; the fatty fish is packed with omega-3s, which can help suppress inflammation and stimulate autophagy in some cells. Additionally, "omega-3s have been shown to help improve heart health and serve an important role in protecting your brain cells," adds Whittel. She recommends stocking up on wild Alaskan salmon in the raw or canned version, as long as the cans are BPA-free.
Like salmon, avocados are rich in healthy fats known as omega-3s, in addition to vitamins E and K. "Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the body tissue from damage caused by free radicals," while vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting. Plus, "avocados are virtually the only fruit that contains monounsaturated fat, which is heart healthy and keeps you satiated." She suggests drizzling two teaspoons tea seed oil, one teaspoon fresh lemon juice, sea salt, and red pepper flakes over an avocado for a delicious, healthy snack.
"This autophagy-activating polyphenol regulates life span and your metabolism," explains Whittel. "It can also protect against free radical destruction, increase fat breakdown, and help stave off hunger." She recommends buying chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids, as they contain more polyphenols, according to a study in the Journal of Functional Foods.