Anti-aging Foods


Berries are rich in antioxidants, which can help prevent cell damage.
Berries are rich in antioxidants, which can help prevent cell damage.
©iStockphoto.com/Peter Close

Looking younger, with smooth skin and a fit body, is appealing to just about everyone. But most of us want to feel younger, too -- to have less stiffness when we get up in the morning and more energy and endurance for both physical and mental tasks. Drugstore aisles are filled with products -- vitamins, minerals and herbs -- that come with claims of helping us reach these goals: Whether you want to run farther, think faster or just remember things more easily, there's probably a supplement out there that claims to help.

But some believe that this so-called "hope in a bottle" could be more hype than anything. It's true that some vitamins and minerals may help us look and feel younger, but these substances aren't just found in pill form: Anti-aging components have always been in many healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, fish -- even coffee and red wine [source: GoodHousekeeping.com, National Cancer Institute]. Some nutrients found in these "super foods" might even help prevent diseases and conditions that affect us as we age, such as Alzheimer's disease and macular degeneration [source: National Cancer Institute].

As long as you're getting the same benefits, adopting a diet rich in anti-aging foods may be preferable to taking supplements. After all, eating well can improve your health and your appearance in a lot of ways -- even if it doesn't make you feel 10 years younger.

To learn what antioxidant-rich foods can do, read on to the following page.

Antioxidants and Aging

You've probably heard the term "antioxidant" connected with preventing disease and slowing the physical effects of aging. Antioxidants are substances found in food that destroy free radicals -- chemically unstable compounds that damage cells in the body. Cell damage is the cause of many signs of aging, including wrinkles, lines and sagging skin. It can also lead to cancer [source: National Cancer Institute]. Research has not concluded that antioxidants can truly slow or prevent the development of cancer, but some of the evidence looks promising.

Antioxidants are readily available in the foods you eat on a regular basis -- or, in any case, the foods you know you should eat on a regular basis. You know what this means: When Mom made you eat your broccoli or put carrot sticks in your lunch box instead of potato chips, she was making sure you got your antioxidants.

Every time you eat fruits and vegetables, you are taking in antioxidants. The same is true when you choose whole-grain bread over white bread made with refined flour. Vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene are all antioxidants, and they are all found in foods that are readily available in your grocery store. Tomatoes, pomegranates, leafy green vegetables, berries, grapes and citrus fruits are a few excellent sources. Whole grains and nuts are also good sources of antioxidants, especially selenium and vitamin E [source: National Cancer Institute].

Of course, when you think "anti-aging," you probably think of having healthy, young-looking skin. Read on to learn what vitamins specifically benefit the skin, and some common foods that contain these important chemicals.

Vitamins and Aging

Since your skin is a visible reminder of the aging process, vitamins that can help you achieve younger-looking skin are important for any anti-aging regimen. What follows is an assessment of vitamins that are especially important for healthy skin.

Vitamin C can improve your skin by protecting it from the sun's UV rays. It also helps skin recover from sun damage or other types of irritation [source: Davis]. And vitamin C is found in a lot of fruits and vegetables, so it's easy to get an adequate serving every day.

Another anti-aging powerhouse is vitamin E. This may be one of the most important antioxidants of all, because in addition to making free radicals inactive, it can actually protect cells from damage. Some experts believe it may reduce the development of cells that cause cancer, as well as diminish wrinkles and lines in the skin. Vitamin E is found in whole grains, oats, dairy products and nuts [source: Warner].

While E and C have proven effective in reversing the effects of aging, there are other vitamins that can help, too. You'll find retinol, a vitamin A derivative, in many anti-aging face creams. Research has shown that wrinkled skin treated with retinol-based lotion shows marked improvement in texture and appearance [source: WebMD]. Deficiencies in vitamin A sometimes result in skin problems such as dry, flaking skin, but this antioxidant is pretty easy to come by via fruits and vegetables.

Experts also say that B complex vitamins, especially biotin, are essential for healthy skin, and low levels of these may result in dry or irritated skin. Look for biotin in bananas, eggs, oatmeal and rice [source: Bouchez].

For more information about food and skin, read Food and Skin: Fast Facts.

For suggestions on how to boost your meals with anti-aging foods, read on to the next page.

Foods to Eat and Avoid

Maintaining a healthy, anti-aging diet is a two-part endeavor. On the one hand, you should avoid foods that increase the effects of aging. On the other, it's important to consume foods that reverse these effects.

As for what you should avoid, the list is simple: Foods high in saturated fats -- such as red meat and pastries that are full of shortening and butter -- are clearly those you should only enjoy in small amounts. Since maintaining a healthy weight is part of an anti-aging diet, it's also not a bad idea to stay away from food and drinks that are high in sugar. In general, you should keep highly processed foods to a minimum [source: Women Fitness].

So, what can you add to your diet to replace all those high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods?

Remember that anti-aging foods include those with high levels of antioxidants. Once you've eliminated unhealthy foods from your diet, try incorporating the following categories of food into your daily menu:

  • Citrus fruits -- These fruits are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that can help maintain healthy skin.
  • Whole grains -- Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain breads are excellent sources of fiber, iron and B vitamins. Fiber keeps your digestive system in good order while iron and B vitamins keep your energy level up.
  • Berries -- This type of fruit is an ideal source of flavonoids, a group of antioxidants. Just a half cup of berries a day could give you a huge boost in anti-aging nutrients.
  • Nuts -- Adding nuts to your morning cereal or lunch salad is an easy way to get important minerals like potassium, which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure. They also contain a good dose of vitamin B, and the healthy fats they contain may help preserve your skin's elasticity [sources: Bouchez, Zelman].

For more information on keeping your skin young and healthy, visit the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Bouchez, Colette. "Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out." WebMD. (Accessed 9/24/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/skin-nutrition
  • Cassetty, Samantha B., and Delia Hammock. "Best Anti-Aging Foods." GoodHousekeeping.com. 2009. (Accessed 10/5/09)http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet/anti-aging-diet-tips
  • Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Expert Q&A: Anti-aging and Diet: An Interview with David Grotto, RD, LDN." WebMD. (Accessed 9/24/09)http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/expert-q-and-q-antiaging-and-diet
  • Hitti, Miranda. "Retinol May Smooth Aging Skin." WebMD. 5/22/07. (Accessed 10/5/09.) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20070522/retinol-may-smooth-aging-skin
  • National Cancer Institute. "Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet". (Accessed 9/24/09)http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/antioxidants
  • National Cancer Institute. "Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT)." (Accessed 9/24/09)http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/SELECTQandA
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Garlic." National Institutes of Health. March 2008. (Accessed 10/23/09)http://nccam.nih.gov/health/garlic/ataglance.htm
  • Warner, Jennifer. "Myth vs. Reality on Anti-Aging Vitamins." Web MD feature located at MedicineNet.com. (Accessed 9/24/09) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51301
  • WomenFitness.net. "Top 10 Anti-Aging Foods." 2009. (Accessed 9/24/09) http://www.womenfitness.net/anti_aging_food.htm
  • Zelman, Kathleen. "The Anti-Aging Diet." WebMD. 2006. (Accessed 10/23/09)http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/anti-aging-diet?page=5