For years, researchers have been studying the areas around the world with the most centenarians.
After all, if you want to unlock the secrets to a long and healthy life, why not ask someone who’s actually crossed the century mark?
They found a common nutritional thread among the people who had lived the longest: a whole-food, plant-focused diet filled with legumes such as fava, black and soy beans as well as lentils.
It’s a simple way to support healthy aging, yet the Western diet typically includes too many processed foods and not nearly enough plants, says Darin Olien, co-creator of Shakeology and co-host of the Netflix docuseries, “Down to Earth with Zac Efron,” who has visited some of these areas.
Over time, this diet pattern can contribute to weight gain and affect our overall health and immunity.
That’s one reason why superfood hunter Olien has traveled the world in search of the most nutrient-dense foods: To help fill the nutritional gaps in our diet.
The Benefits of Eating Whole Foods
When life is hectic, it can be hard to resist the convenience of microwave dinners and fast food.
But these highly processed foods are often loaded with added sugars, salt, fat, and preservatives.
Whole foods, on the other hand, are minimally processed, so they’re as close as possible to their natural state.
It’s the way nature intended for us to eat, says Olien. And that’s important because Mother Nature knows more about nutrition than we do.
When you follow a whole-foods-based diet full of vegetables and whole fruits, you’ll get filling fiber along with a variety of important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to help support overall health and benefit heart health.
The Power of Phytonutrients
In particular, whole foods provide a variety of phytonutrients— plant compounds that play an important role in helping keep us healthy.
Many of these bioactive compounds are believed to have antioxidant properties that complement the benefits of vitamins and minerals.4
When you eat nutrient-dense whole foods, you reap the benefits of “food synergy” — the idea that these bioactive compounds can work together with other nutrients to help increase the nutritional impact.
For example, camu camu — a superfruit found in the Amazon rainforest — has more vitamin C than almost any other food on planet, says Olien.
But in its natural, fresh state it also provides minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and antioxidant properties that together offer more health benefits than vitamin C on its own.
Goji berries, which have been used since ancient times throughout Asia for wellness, are another source of vitamin C — but these berries are also full of phytonutrients with antioxidant properties you wouldn’t get from a simple vitamin C supplement.
While scientists have identified thousands of different phytonutrients, each with its own unique benefits, they will probably never identify all of them, explains Olien, making it impossible to replicate their benefits.
Kale — touted as a popular superfood — also has powerful phytonutrients and antioxidant properties not found outside cruciferous veggies.
And maca, a cruciferous veggie that’s a dietary staple in Peru, contains secondary metabolites that are only found in maca.
When it comes to giving your body the nutrients it needs, focus on eating a wide variety of whole foods to help ensure you’re getting as many potential benefits of phytonutrients as possible.
And if your kitchen isn’t stocked with Amazonian superfruits, Shakeology delivers a unique mix of whole-food-based ingredients — “some of the best Mother Nature has to offer, in a powerful formula where all these ingredients work together synergistically to help benefit your health,” Olien says.
Check out our video with Darin Olien above to learn more about the importance of a whole-foods-based diet and his favorite phytonutrient-packed superfoods he’s found in his travels.