There are a few things in life we simply can’t avoid, and getting older is one of them. That’s not all bad – as the years go by, we create memories, learn and hopefully grow wiser. But wouldn’t it be great if the accumulating years didn’t also bring with them wrinkles, brittle bones, fading memory and susceptibility to disease? Well, there’s no magic bullet, but there is still a lot we can do to slow down or eliminate some of the negative effects of aging. And food, as always, is a great place to start.
Aging isn’t the same thing as getting older – it’s a slow degradation of our bodies down to the cell and DNA level, and scientists are still trying to understand precisely what causes it. It seems that to a certain extent we are designed to age – it’s a design flaw resulting from the way our DNA slowly degrades as our cells regenerate. But outside factors such as stress, diet and pollution also play a big role, and that’s where we as individuals can make a difference. Much of the damage done to our bodies results from free radicals, which are oxygen molecules that bind to and damage our cells over time. Our bodies produce them naturally, but we are also bombarded by external sources such as cigarette smoke, radiation, ozone, certain medications and a variety of pollutants.
General good health – eating well, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol and obviously not smoking – is always going to be your best front line defense against aging and age-related illnesses. But yes, there are certain foods that will give you an added boost, primarily those with high levels of antioxidants which can help neutralize free radicals. There are many forms of antioxidants, and scientists are still unsure of which ones provide health benefits, so a wide range antioxidant-rich foods is the key. Here are some good choices:
Nuts and berries: Strawberries, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries are all fantastic sources of antioxidants. While many tout the benefits of Goji berries for their high Vitamin C content (Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant), the actual vitamin content of Goji berries can vary widely, and on average is probably no higher than that of strawberries. Pick what you like! Nuts are also a great source, but remember, peanuts are not nuts. Choose almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios. And don’t forget that almond powder makes a great flour substitute for breading chicken or fish.
Fruit and vegetables: Artichokes, spinach, red cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes and watermelon are all antioxidant-rich. Spinach, cabbage and broccoli are all healthier eaten raw, and are wonderful salad ingredients. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are better for you when cooked, but don’t let that stop you from throwing a few into the salad bowl as well. Carrots and yellow squash are also delicious sources of beta-carotene, another powerful antioxidant.
Other sources: Green tea, red beans, pomegranate juice, oats, dark chocolate (be sure to check that it contains 70% or higher cacao), red wine and herbs such as cinnamon, ginger and oregano are all antioxidant rich foods.
While the antioxidants are doing their job, you need also to consider the most common age-related illnesses, which can often be warded off by maintaining high levels of certain vitamins. To fight osteoporosis you should regularly eat foods high in zinc and calcium. Drinking milk is not the answer – milk contains calcium, but your body doesn’t absorb it, and drinking too much cow’s milk can actually promote calcium loss in your bones. Leafy vegetables are a much better source of calcium (where do you think adult cows get their calcium?), salmon and sardines are also calcium-rich. Get your zinc from meat and shellfish or, if you are vegetarian, from sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and wheat germ.
To prevent heart disease, foods with Vitamin E are crucial – maintaining your levels of E can cut your chances of heart disease in half. A salad with spinach, avocado and nuts would give provide ample quantities of E. Foods rich in beta-carotene (carrots, squash and sweet potatoes) are important, and grapefruit has been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Memory loss is a common problem as we get older, so keeping your brain active is essential. Feed it B vitamins – meat and fish, lentils, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, nuts, wheat germ and bananas. Wrinkles aren’t quite an illness, but if you want less of them, focus on beta-carotene and food rich in Vitamin C.