From time to time, most of us wish we could stop the clock on the aging process, but scientists still haven't found the key to keeping us forever young. As we get older, the body's machinery begins to function a little less smoothly and we become susceptible to age-related and degenerative diseases. But there are certain foods that can help counteract the negative effects aging has on the body. They won't make you younger or stop you from getting older, but they can improve your overall health and vitality, and protect you against disease and illness, which could prolong your life and make the years you do have more healthful.
While exercise and a healthy diet can keep you fit well into old age, some foods are especially good at preventing or reducing the effects of age-related diseases and other health problems. Here we'll look at 10 foods that pack a huge anti-aging punch.
Berries of all types -- blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, strawberries -- are super rich in antioxidants, such as flavonols and anthocyanins, which promote cell health and can protect against disease. Anthocyanins in particular, found in large quantities in blackberries, are thought to help protect against cancer and diabetes [source: Klein].
Darker berries -- especially ones that are black or blue in color -- tend to provide the best anti-aging benefits because they have the highest concentration of antioxidants [source: Watson]. According to some studies, blueberries may even help slow or reverse neurological degeneration, improve memory, restrict the growth of cancer cells and reduce inflammation. And as an added bonus, they're great for urinary tract health [source: Klein].
Berries are also an excellent source of vitamins, especially vitamin C, which is good for your skin [source: Cassetty]. Vitamin C helps repair damaged body tissues and has been linked to skin cancer prevention [source: University of Maryland Medical Center].
Some of the most visible signs of the aging process can be seen in our skin. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation ages the skin more quickly. But did you know that eating (or drinking) dark chocolate has been shown to help protect the skin against the harmful effects of UV exposure?
Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is made, have a higher antioxidant capacity than any other food, and the high concentration of antioxidant flavanols in cocoa beans helps reduce inflammation of the skin caused by exposure to UV light. Furthermore, eating dark chocolate can increase circulation in the skin and improve its ability to retain moisture, which can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and help you look younger [source: Williams].
But not all chocolate is equal when it comes to anti-aging -- it's dark chocolate that provides the greatest benefits. That's because the refining process involved in making other kinds of chocolate actually strips away most of the skin-benefitting antioxidant flavanols.
Beans, beans, they're good for your heart, the more you eat the more you, well, you get the idea. Beans often get a bad reputation because they can make you gassy, but they're truly one of the great dietary staples. They're an excellent source of low-fat protein, especially for those who don't eat meat. They also contain fiber (which can help lower cholesterol), are rich in antioxidants, and are chock full of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, including iron, vitamin B and potassium.
What's more, some beans -- including soy and kidney beans -- contain protease inhibitors and genistein, which are thought to help protect against cancer [source: Beare]. Studies have shown, for instance, that people who had high levels of genistein had the lowest rates of breast and prostate cancers [source: Banerjee].
A popular dietary supplement in recent years has been fish oil, and there's certainly good reason for that trend. Eating fish, or taking fish oil supplements, provides the body with omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against heart disease, reduce inflammation, decrease the risk of arrhythmia and lower blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids are found largely in coldwater fish, including salmon, herring, tuna and sardines.
Studies have even shown that people who eat a lot of fish live longer. One study of middle-aged American men found that those who ate fish two to three times per week had a 40 percent lower mortality rate than those who did not. In men who had previously suffered a heart attack, eating fish twice a week actually lowered their mortality rates by 29 percent [source: Walford].
Fish is also a great source of protein and, unlike other meats, is low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends eating omega-3-rich fish at least two times per week [source: American Heart Association].
Like fruits, vegetables are one of the best sources of antioxidants available and they can go a long way toward fighting free radicals and slowing the effects of aging. The best vegetables for finding antioxidants are green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Two of the antioxidants found are lutin and zeaxanthin, which have also been shown to protect against the negative effects of UV exposure [source: Mukhtar].
Vegetables are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, K and E. They're also great for the immune system, helping the body fortify itself against sickness and disease. Studies have shown that a diet full of vegetables can help prevent cardiovascular disease, lower high blood pressure and, after a heart attack or stroke, lower cholesterol and unclog arteries. Eating lots of veggies (and fruit) could even reduce the risk of cancer in the digestive tract (including the colon and stomach) by up to 25 percent [source: Klatz].
Nuts are known for the protein they provide, but that's not all these small nutrient-rich foods can do for you. Nuts of all kinds are a good source of unsaturated fats. Like coldwater fish, nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health. They're also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, which helps lower blood pressure; vitamin E, which helps prevent cell damage; and calcium to maintain strong bones.
Another great benefit of eating nuts is that they can fill you up without packing on the pounds. That's because up to 20 percent of the calories in nuts doesn't get absorbed by the body, making them a great snack between meals [source: Cassetty].
You may have heard that drinking one glass of red wine each day is good for your heart. Well, it's true! The antioxidants and nutrients in red wine can help prevent heart disease by protecting the arteries and the lining of blood vessels.
One of the most well recognized anti-aging components found in red wine is an antioxidant called resveratrol. Studies have shown that resveratrol may help prevent blood clots, reduce the risk of cancer, decrease inflammation and lower bad cholesterol [source: Challem].
Another heart-healthy aspect of red wine is its alcohol content. Alcohol -- in moderation -- helps to keep blood clots from forming, increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol [source: Mayo Clinic].
It's well known that eating whole grains is good for your digestive system -- all that fiber keeps you regular and helps rid the body of unwanted substances, such as bad cholesterol and fats. Fiber also helps control your appetite and keep blood sugar low [source: Beare]. But a diet rich in whole grains, including oats, whole wheat and brown rice, has other anti-aging benefits because they're rich in vitamins and minerals. Eating whole grains has also been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes [source: Cassetty].
The key is to make sure the grains you're eating aren't refined, because it's the refining process that strips away many of the essential vitamins and minerals that make the grains so good for you in the first place.
Garlic has long been thought of as a healthful and flavorful food, eaten by itself or added into a variety of delicious dishes. Its anti-aging benefits include lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and protecting and maintaining cell health [source: Butt].
One of the biggest benefits of eating garlic is that it's a natural way to boost the immune system. Garlic has been used in folk medicine to help prevent and fight against infection for centuries, and scientific studies confirm its benefit as an anti-viral and anti-bacterial food [source: Martirosyan].
Additionally, garlic has been linked to helping reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells [source: Butt]. Several studies have shown that the more garlic -- both cooked and uncooked -- a person eats, the lower their risk of getting stomach or intestinal cancers. It's also been linked to reduced rates of breast and pancreatic cancers [source: National Cancer Institute].
Whether you eat them in slices or mashed into guacamole, avocados are a fruit that has long been hailed for its anti-aging properties. Avocados are a great source of vitamin E and potassium, as well as monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. The vitamins and minerals in avocados have been shown to reduce cholesterol, improve skin health and lower blood pressure [source: Watson].
Avocados are also rich in folates (also called folic acid or vitamin B). Folates have been linked to heart attack prevention and reducing the risk of osteoporosis [source: Johnson]. Avocados also contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been shown to lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol and protect against blood clots.
To learn more about aging, healthy foods and how to thwart the aging process with a healthy diet, take a look at the links on the next page.
5 Ways To Age Gracefully and Healthfully will show you healthy ways to age gracefully. Read on to discover 5 Ways To Age Gracefully and Healthfully.
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- Walford, Roy, M.D., and Lisa Walford. "The Anti-Aging Plan: The Nutrient-Rich, Low Calorie Way of Eating for a Longer Life -- The Only Diet Scientifically Proven to Extend Your Healthy Years." Marlowe & Company. 1994.
- Watson, Ronald Ross, Joe K. Gerald, and Victor R. Preedy. "Nutrients, Dietary Supplements, and Nutriceuticals: Cost Analysis Versus Clinical Benefits." Springer. 2010.
- Williams, Stefanie, MD, Slobodanka Tamburic PhD, and Carmel Lally BSc. "Eating Chocolate Can Significantly Protect the Skin from UV Light." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Vol. 8, No. 3. September 2009. (June 11, 2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1473-2165.2009.00448.x/full
- Zelman, Kathleen M., MPH, RD, LD. "10 Everyday Super Foods." WebMD. (June 9, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/10-everyday-super-foods
- Zelman, Kathleen M., MPH, RD, LD. "The Anti-Aging Diet." WebMD. (June 9, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/anti-aging-diet