The way we eat can improve the way we age. But you don’t have to deny yourself the flavors you crave to enjoy anti-aging benefits. Here are 7 delicious strategies for keeping time in its place.
IT WAS HEADLINE NEWS: Researchers determined that an ultra-low-calorie diet could prolong life by 40 percent or more. Of course, there was a downside. The participants were rats and cranky rats at that. Apparently, these long-lived, half-starved rodents bit anyone who tried to hold them, unlike their sated siblings. Who could blame them? Would you want to cut your calorie intake to the bone?
Before you bother trying, it turns out the cost-to-benefit ratio is a bit more conservative for human beings. University of California researchers recently concluded that a lifetime of severe calorie restriction would probably prolong a human life span by only 3 percent to 7 percent. Are we going to wake up and rejoice that were alive for one more day when we only get to eat bean sprouts and brown rice? asks Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition and assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University in University Park.
A wiser, happier way to slow the aging process is to adopt a diet filled with nutrients and enjoyment. Eating well is one of life’s great pleasures and done appropriately, it offers the rewards of a longer life. Here are seven principles, and seven accompanying recipes, to help you eat better, longer.
1. Choose Organic
Buy whole organic foods as close to their original form as possible, says Luise Light, M.Ed., Ed.D., adjunct professor at Keene State College in Keene, N.H., and author of What to Eat. The food tastes better, stays fresher longer, and tends to have higher levels of nutrients than commercially grown foods from soils and plants heavily treated with pesticides, she notes. Look for the USDA stamp certifying the food is organic, which means its been grown without synthetic chemical pesticides. If cost is an issue, consider joining an organic food co-op.
2. Pack In The Antioxidants
The antioxidant compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and herbs help prevent cell damage and reduce inflammation, which is the key to delaying aging and reducing vulnerability to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Studies at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston indicate that foods particularly high in antioxidants like spinach, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries may help prevent long-term memory loss and protect learning ability, as well as guard capillaries from oxygen damage. Prunes, raisins, kale, and Brussels and alfalfa sprouts also get top ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scores, which measure the antioxidant power of foods. And although they get little notice, many herbs are as full of antioxidants as fruits and vegetables, reports the Agricultural Research Service Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. Oregano tops the list, but other high achievers include bay leaves, dill, savory, and coriander.
3. Calculate Your Calcium
Both men and women lose about 0.4 percent of their bone mass each year after age 30. But women lose an additional 1 percent to 2 percent of bone mass annually for five to eight years after menopause. To protect yourself, up your intake of calcium-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, beans, and whole grains, and get plenty of vitamin D. Dairy products are loaded with calcium, but pick organic, lower-fat versions like skim or 1 percent milk, says geriatrician Harrison G. Bloom, M.D., senior associate and director of the Clinical Educational Consultation Service in New York City. Women, in particular, need to supplement with 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams a day of calcium, plus 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin D.
4. Deep-Six Processed Foods
Refined foods have a lot of calories from processed flour, fat, and sugar, but they’re poor in nutrients and phytochemicals, says Light. These products also tend to be high in salt, which in excess can raise blood pressure and stroke risk. And high-heat processing often destroys a lot of the nutrients and adds preservatives that may be associated with allergies, cancer, and asthma. Cautions Light, If there are more than four unfamiliar chemical ingredients on the label, you can be sure its a highly processed food.
Skip refined foods like white flour and sugar that burn quickly, leaving you hungry soon afterward; avoid, too, anything with high-fructose corn syrup. Choose whole grains like whole wheat and oatmeal; if you crave sweets, eat fresh or dried fruits, which are full of fiber to slow digestion instead of spiking blood sugar.
5. Focus On Plant Oils
By now, most of us know enough to avoid the hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) and saturated fats that can clog arteries, raise bad LDL cholesterol, and increase the risk of heart attack. Limit corn, soy, and canola oils as well; they’re treated with heat and may contain toxic ingredients created during processing. Instead, stick to organic plant oils like unrefined extra-virgin olive oil, a monounsaturated fat loaded with vitamin E antioxidants and a natural anti-inflammatory chemical called squalene that slows the formation of blood clots. Other good sources of heart-healthy fats include nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and fish.
6. Go Fish
A nutrient-rich protein, fish is generally low in calories and high in essential fatty acids, which protect the membranes inside blood vessel walls. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish also help lower cholesterol, improve joint function in people with arthritis, and can improve brain function, much as leafy greens and berries do, says Paula Bickford, Ph.D., a professor at the Center for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.
Eat wild, not farm-raised fish, suggests Light: Farm-raised fish are fed refined grain products without a diet of phytoplankton, farm-raised fish have much less omega-3 fatty acids than wild fish. But limit your intake of large ocean fish like tuna or swordfish because of their higher mercury content. (The bigger the fish, the longer its had to accumulate mercury from industrial pollution.) Opt for younger, smaller fish, such as Alaskan wild salmon, tilapia, mackerel, or mahi mahi.
You don’t have to cut out beef, lamb, and chicken entirely. they’re an important source of cancer- and anemia-fighting vitamin B12, as are eggs and dairy products. Limit red meats to twice a week, or just stick to chicken, which has less artery-clogging saturated fat; buy organic, grass-fed, free-range meats to avoid the growth hormones and antibiotics in standard varieties. Alternatively, choose B12-fortified vegan foods like yeast extracts, veggie burgers, soy milks, and breakfast cereals.
7. Hit Your Target Weight
You don’t have to eat like a calorie-restricted rat, but it pays to establish limits and maintain a healthy body weight. Excess weight is a tremendous risk factor for chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis, says Clark.
Calculate your best weight this way, she adds: Women optimally weigh 100 pounds at 5 feet, and 5 pounds more for each additional inch; men weigh 106 pounds at 5 feet, plus 6 pounds for each additional inch. If you are sedentary, you need to eat only 14 calories per pound of your body weight to maintain it; if very active, you need 16 calories per pound. Cut 500 calories per day to lose about a pound a week.