What are the best nutrients, you ask? Well, the researchers asked participants to report their diet habits in the past year: How many vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains were they eating? What about red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sodium? They then took blood samples to measure DNA methylation status, specifically looking for three markers: DunedinPoAm, GrimAA, and PhenoAA—all of which have been associated with age-related morbidity and mortality. 

Lo and behold, participants who had a higher diet score (meaning, lots of fruits, veggies, grains, legumes and less processed, sugar-laden items) had less of those epigenetic age acceleration markers. Not to mention, they also generally had lower BMIs, higher HDL cholesterol (or the “good” cholesterol), and were less likely to take hypertension medication. 

Even individuals with a history of smoking (either current or former smokers) had less of those age acceleration markers—that’s not to say a healthy diet will absolutely cancel out the negative impacts of smoking, but it’s interesting how the effect is still that prominent. 

In terms of what, exactly, makes the diet so good for healthy aging, it remains a little unclear: “This favorable relation between higher diet quality scores and epigenetic age deceleration may be related to reductions in oxidative and inflammatory stress,” the report reads. However, more research is needed to assess the specific mechanisms responsible.