September is Healthy Aging Month, an annual celebration that provides older adults with tips on how to be healthier and happier.
“You are what you eat.” Although this idiom is not strictly true – people who eat a lot of chicken aren’t actually chickens, for instance – the things people eat can provide direct benefits to their future selves. Here are only a few examples of foods that help people age with grace.
Blueberries are filled with antioxidants, compounds that reduce oxidative damage and thereby mitigate chronic inflammation. As individuals grow older, this age-related inflammation results in deficits in both memory and motor function. In fact, age-related inflammation is believed to be the root of most chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and osteoporosis. Fighting these biological changes could be as simple as adding blueberries to your daily diet.
Surprisingly, blueberries are not the only berries that are rich in powerful antioxidants. Acai berries, blackberries and raspberries, to name only a few, also protect the body against aging-related inflammation.
2. Dark leafy greens
Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale contain substantial amounts of vitamin K, a nutrient that plays a vital role in reducing bone loss and preventing fractures. Dark leafy greens also provide the body with plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin, two plant pigments that protect eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.
3. Dairy products and proteins
Fat-free milk, yogurt and low-fat cheeses all contain minerals that help keep bones and blood pressure healthy – primarily calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Calcium also contains “good bacteria” that help maintain gut health and protect the body from age-related intestinal illnesses.
Calcium can’t build bone without protein, however. Make sure to eat plenty of meat as well! For vegetarians, other protein-rich foods include legumes such as beans, lentils and peanuts, especially when combined with grains like rice, wheat and corn. Speaking of grains …
4. Whole grains
Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice, are extremely healthy. Whole grains protect against diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, gum disease and colon cancer. These benefits are due to the wide variety of vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals and fiber contained within whole grain.
Refined grains, meanwhile, such as white rice, white bread and other foods made with white flour are considerably less healthy. Refined grains, unlike whole grains, lose nutrients during the manufacturing process.
Like the antioxidants found in blueberries, the fatty acids present in seafood fight off chronic inflammation associated with aging. These fatty acids, omega-3s, are more present in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, making them ideal choices when it comes to staving off cellular damage. Omega-3 fats also prevent cholesterol from building up in the arteries and protect against abnormal heart rhythms.
For people who aren’t fans of fish and other sea creatures, omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in plant sources like walnuts and flaxseed.
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Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer