Food is a lot more than calories. Research evidence suggests that food also speaks to our genome, which is the genetic blueprint that directs the way the body functions down to the cellular level.
This brings a whole new meaning to the idea of a food chain. Indeed, if our bodies are influenced by what we have eaten – down to a molecular level – then what the food we eat also could affect our genome. For example, compared to milk from grass-fed cows, the milk from grain-fed cattle has different amounts and types of vitamins A , C and fatty acids. So when we drink these different types of milk, our cells also receive different nutritional messages.
Like wise as a human mother’s diet changes the levels of fatty acids as well as vitamins such as B-6, B-12 and folate that are found in her breast milk. This could alter the type of nutritional messages reaching the child’s own genetic switch, and whether or not this has an effect on the child’s development.
Epigenetics - what is it ? Your genes play an important role in your health, but so do your behaviors and environment, such as what you eat and how physically active you are. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.
Plays a role in the immune response, protein synthesis, nerve and muscle function, blood pressure regulation and has several antioxidant properties
Food sources: Almonds, spinach, whole grains, cashews, peanuts, fortified breakfast cereals, black beans, peanut butter, avocado, dark chocolate, brown rice, plain yogurt, banana, kidney beans, salmon chicken, broccoli, apples, tofu
Plays a role in several aspects of cellular metabolism, immune function, wound healing, growth, and development, and is required for proper taste, smell, and protein synthesis
Food sources: cashews, chickpeas, yogurt, and milk products, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals (fortified with zinc), seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, oysters, red meat
Important for immune and thyroid system
Food sources: eggs, brown rice, mushrooms, grain products, dairy products, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, meat, poultry, spinach
Low Mn has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
Food sources: brown rice, wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, oats, garlic
Plays a role in many neuronal activities
Food sources: fish, shellfish, cereal grains, eggs, meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lima beans
Important for bone health – elderly are at risk for osteoporosis, which increases the risk of falls
Food sources: Greek yogurt (protein and calcium), cheese, cottage cheese, leafy vegetables (i.e., kale), almonds, oranges, salmon
Essential in older ages and facilitates absorption of Ca, also needed for bone health
Food sources: fortified vitamin D milk or almond milk, mushrooms, salmon, tuna, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks
Due to less sun exposure in the Northern Hemisphere, most people need to take vitamin D in a supplement form as little foods from your diet provide adequate vitamin D – get your vitamin D levels checked and talk to your doctor.
Low stomach acid can affect the absorption of vitamin B12. B vitamins are needed to prevent or reduce the severity of diseases
Food sources: whole grains, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, fortified cereals, spinach, oranges
Known for its immune defense mechanisms, wound healing properties, protein synthesis, and is required for the synthesis of collagen and certain neurotransmitters.
food sources: oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, red and green
peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, potato
Anti-ageing effect on the skin and has also had a positive effect on cancer cells
Food sources: liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, mango, broccoli, bell peppers, apricots, winter squash
Immune supporting properties and has been associated with the reduced decline of cognitive abilities in Alzheimer’s disease and also the elderly
Food sources: nuts, seeds, avocado, cereals, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, onions, fortified cereals
An important role in blood clotting, calcium transport, and bone density
Food sources: eggs, meat, tuna, kiwi, avocado, rhubarb, kale, broccoli, spinach, asparagus
Three more important nutrients for the elderly:
Important to prevent sarcopenia – muscle loss.
Food sources: chicken, fish, pork, turkey, eggs, egg whites, kidney/chickpea beans, peanut butter (2 tbsp), veggie burgers, tofu
Constipation is common in the elderly due to inadequate nutrient intake, dehydration or medications. Constipation is associated with decreased quality of life, OCD, anxiety,depression particularly in older adults.
Fibre sources: oatmeal, fruits (apples, berries, pears), vegetables, beans, whole grains
Due to less stomach acid in the elderly, this could lead to poor absorption of vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Vitamins and minerals needed in your diet and how to increase your intake:
The elderly are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Iron can help keep general energy levels up and preserve gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, and the regulation of body temperature.
Food sources: spinach, sweet potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, beets, kale, cereals, pork, meat, poultry, fish, beans eggs.
Hydration is important as being dehydrated has several health complications, such as constipation. Drink at least 8 glasses of fresh water every day . Keep in mind that anything that is caffeinated acts as a diuretic and dehydrates you.
Methylation mechanisms in the body .
The body is a very complex machine, with various gears and switches that need to be all functioning properly to operate optimally. Think of methylation, and the opposite action, demethylation, as the mechanism that allows the gears to turn, and turns biological switches on and off for a host of systems in the body.
Epinutrients , simply means a nutrient that can have an epigenetic effect and these powerful compounds can directly affect the epigenome due to their functional roles in driving DNA methylation.They can be thought of as molecules that regulate gene expression by providing the building blocks for and directing methylation processes.
Folate, a water-soluble B vitamin is perhaps the most well-known nutrient in relation to methylation and is a key component of the one carbon group used to methylate DNA. It is also involved in DNA synthesis and maintenance.
Sources – folate is mainly present in green leafy vegetables, such as kale , spinach, and collard greens, while its synthetic form (folic acid) is often used in the fortification of foods and in some dietary supplements.
The water-soluble vitamins B2, B6, and B12 have an important catalytic role in folate and one-carbon metabolism. Vitamin B12 is the coenzyme of methionine synthase, which catalyses the reaction of homocysteine to methionine.
Sources – food sources containing vitamin B12 are mainly animal products, so vegetarian or vegan diets may be lacking in this important nutrient. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are sources of B12 although obtaining optimal levels may be challenging through diet alone.
Choline is an indirect methyl group donor for one-carbon metabolism and subsequently DNA methylation.
Sources – the richest dietary sources of choline can be found in eggs, meat, liver, fish, beets, mushrooms and dairy products.
Just as we can take steps to ensure our diet is naturally high in methylation supporting nutrients, we can also ensure that we minimise or exclude those factors that can negatively impact on methylation and gene expression.
- exposure to toxins, such as pesticides
- chronic stress
- excessive alcohol intake
- lack of exercise
- excessive sugar
- poor diet
- trans fats, etc
Improving the Methylation Cycle
In addition to a healthy, whole-food, non-processed food diet, make sure you are eating a lot of these foods:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Legumes (peas, beans, lentils)
Lifestyle changes include:
- Engage in regular physical exercise
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid excessive coffee consumption.