‘You are what you eat’ is an old adage perhaps, but it is certainly true that if you eat a healthy and natural diet, you can reduce the effect of ageing on your body.
There’s no doubt that a healthy, varied and balanced diet plays an important role in looking and feeling younger
Substances such as antioxidants and essential fatty acids help keep your mind and body fighting fit and prevent many of the illnesses associated with ageing such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Adding more whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and beans and pulses to your diet can add years to your life and will ensure that your skin glows and you feel full of energy and vigour.
So if you want to eat well to look and feel younger where do you begin?
The importance of antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposure to substances such as tobacco smoke, toxic chemicals or overexposure to the sun’s rays and radiation.
Free radicals can damage cells and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases, and they are responsible for many of the degenerative effects of ageing, such as loss of skin suppleness and arthritic conditions.
Antioxidants are found in all brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, as well as in whole grains, and they are often identified in food by their distinctive colours – the deep red of cherries and tomatoes; the orange of carrots; the yellow of corn, mangoes and saffron; and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries and grapes.
The most well-known components of foods with antioxidant activities are vitamins A. C, E, and beta carotene; the minerals selenium and zinc; and, more recently identified, the compound lycopene.
Fruit and vegetables
It’s no secret that fruit and vegetables provide us with the majority of the vitamins, minerals and other compounds such as antioxidants that our bodies need to stay healthy.
Many of the compounds from fruits and vegetables have more than one role in helping to keep us healthy. They are involved in helping to maintain day-to-day good health and in protecting against longer-term illnesses such as cancer, heart problems, stroke and diabetes. They affect our skin, our energy levels, our metabolism and virtually every body function. Perhaps the most important element of fruit and vegetables is the fact that they are rich in antioxidants – known as the ‘anti-ageing’ nutrients.
Any fruit is an excellent addition to reduce boosting diet, with the brightly coloured varieties topping the list. Add the following to your menu whenever possible:
Once again, the brightly coloured members of the vegetable family will provide the best source the antioxidant nutrients, but all vegetables contain crucial vitamins and minerals that will improve your health, and they will also boost your fibre intake. In particular, we recommend you try:
Raw or cooked?
Raw foods contain enzymes that are required by the body to break down our foods. Cooking tends to break down these enzymes whereas raw foods ensure that they remain intact throughout the chewing process, the stomach acid, and, some experts believe, the entire digestive system.
But there is another side to the coin. Evidence suggests that the body can absorb more of an important substance from cooked vegetables then from raw ones (for more see here)
Research suggests that cooking can improve our absorption of carotenoids, one of the key antioxidants – found in carrots, broccoli and spinach – when it comes to protecting health. For example, while the gut could absorb 3-4% of the carotenoids in raw carrots, that could increase by up to 5 times if the carrots were cooked and mashed. What’s the answer? Try to aim for half raw and half cooked, and you should get it just about right.
Research shows that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables in a range of colours is the best way to ensure that you are getting the correct balance of antioxidant nutrients, as well as other key compounds that your body needs to stay healthy.
Five servings of fruits and vegetables a day are often recommended: but newer evidence suggests it should be 7 – or more!. It’s not as difficult as you may think to eat more fresh produce; throw a handful of mixed berries into a salad, choose fruit for pudding, drink plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, and instead of crisps, try snacking on raw carrots, celery, cucumber, peppers and other crudités. Doing this will easily help you meet your target.
Superfoods for super bodies
Apart from fruit, vegetable and grains there are many other foods that can have a dramatic and positive effect on your health. Eaten as often as possible throughout the week, they will provide key nutrients that are required to keep you healthy, and prevent some of the less pleasant effects of getting older.
Beans and pulses
Beans, peas and chickpeas are from a family of vegetables called pulses, or legumes. They are an extremely important part of a healthy diet. Not only are they a major source of healthy complex carbohydrates (being completely unrefined), they also provide an excellent source of fibre, protein and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and zinc.
In addition, they are low in fat and an inexpensive addition to any diet. Chickpeas are known to be adaptogenic (meaning that they support the adrenal gland, which is responsible for our response to stress) and are a rich source of protein and EFAs as well as iron, which is essential for healthy blood. Lentils are also a rich source of protein and iron. They are known to aid circulation and heart function and support the vitality of the kidneys.
Soybeans, or edamame, are often promoted as a healthy pulse. Opinions, however, are divided about whether eating soya this way (as opposed to its more traditional fermented forms such as soya or miso) is actually healthy. Since there are such as wealth of other healthy pulses available we suggest including more of these and less soya in the diet (for more see here).
There are many types of pulses – adzuki beans, black-eyed beans, kidney, lima or broadbeans, borlotti or cannellini beans, or mangetout. Try these in pastas or stews, cold in salads, or even on their own, at least two or three times a week.
Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g. cracked, crushed, rolled and/or cooked), the food product should still deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.
Whole grains are not refined, which means nothing has been stripped or removed from the grains. So wholemeal bread is a whole grain, while white bread is not because the grain has undergone a refining process which changes it from being ‘whole’. The principal health benefits from whole grains come from the complete package of nutrients that are perfectly balanced and synergised by nature.
It is impossible to duplicate these benefits by taking the single nutrients alone. These nutrients include vitamins B and E; the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc; fibre and other valuable nutrients including flavonoids, oligosaccharides, inositol, phytates, phytoestrogens and protese inhibitors.
This might sound like an alphabet soup strange words, but these nutrients have been shown to protect against many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and a range of cancers.
What’s more, whole grains encourage healthy digestion, which means that the food that you do eat is better assimilated by your body. This is particularly important as you become older, because your body becomes less efficient at digesting and absorbing food.
Whole grains include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn (including popcorn!), millet, goats, quinoa, Brown and coloured rices such as red rice, rye, wheat and wild rice. Some of these have particular benefits in a youth boosting diet. For example:
Aim for at least two servings of whole grains with each meal, and one or two in between. On their own (i.e. not slathered in butter or dressings) they are low in fat and there are so many of them, they can easily be adapted to any dietary needs.
To get more into your diet, throw a handful of quinoa into your salads or pastas, shoes and assaulted air-popped corn as a healthy snack, eat a whole meal on alongside newer suit or as part of breakfast, and experiment with the multitude of different rices available. Try breads that contain different combinations of grains, and start your day with a healthy bowl of muesli for porridge.
Essential fatty acids
As the name suggests, these are essential oils, or fats, and your body needs them! Essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are also known as the ‘omega’ oils – 3, 6 and 9 – are obtained from food and converted into substances that keep our blood thin, lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation, improve the function of our nervous and immune systems, help insulin to work, enhance our vision, coordination and mood, encourage healthy metabolism and maintain the balance of water in our bodies.
EFAs also moisturise the skin from within, reduce fluid loss from the skin, support cell membrane integrity and nourish the brain.
Sadly, our diets are usually deficient in these key fats. There are two main sources of EFAs; vegetarian foods or oily fish (see below).
Good vegetarian sources include nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, soya, corn, sesame and sunflower seeds (and their oils) and peanut and olive oils. Leafy green vegetables contain lots of EFAs that can provide the basis for your new healthy lifestyle.
Vegetarian sources have one advantage over fish oils, in that they are rich sources of vitamin E, which is required to keep our arteries healthy and our skin looking youthful. Hemp seed oil (also known as linseed) is a wonderful, nutritionally rich oil that contains the important fatty acid GLA.
As with other nutrient rich foods, you can’t eat too many of these essential oils. Use handfuls of nuts and seeds for snacks, sprinkle them on salads and pasta dishes, drizzle their oils over salads or blend them into smoothies – anything goes. Choose organic if you can.
And fish too?
EFAs are found in oily fish which include salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, pilchards and fresh tuna. Some experts recommend that you eat no more than one or two servings a week because of the risk of mercury contamination, but others argue that the benefits of the EFA oils – in this case, omega 3s – can outweigh any dangers.
Fish is a superb source of protein, and the EFAs in oily fish are of particular benefit in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, as well as skin, weight and even mood problems.
When most of us think of oily fish we think of salmon. If this is our preference choose wild over farmed varieties; farmed salmon is environmentally unsound and can contain high levels of contaminants. But try, also, to break out of the salmon habit and choose other fish such as sustainably caught tuna (not bluefin), anchovies, halibut, mackrel, sardines, trout or shellfish – all of which are rich sources of EFAs. Whatever your choice of fish make sure it’s sustainable – see the Fish Online website for good advice.
If you are a vegetarian or simply not the fish lover, then supplements which supply EFAs from marine algae are the best answer. Indeed, as our global fish supply continues to be plundered marine algae source EFAs are also a more sustainable choice.
These are a group of chemicals found in plants that can act like the hormone oestrogen, which is necessary for childbearing and is involved with bone and heart health in women. Phytoestrogens are particularly useful for menopausal women and some studies show that they reduce the symptoms of menopause significantly.
Soya is also a good source, although to get the most health benefits they should be fermented before eating, as in tofu products. Other good sources include whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, seed oils, berries, fruits, vegetables and roots.
Putting it together
Adding the foods to your diet that are known to enhance health and promote positive ageing will soon change the way you look and feel. It also goes without saying that we believe that choosing organic foods, wherever possible is important to good health.
Organic foods are free from pesticides residues and guaranteed to be GM free. And of course the more you can cook for yourself the more you will avoid synthetic additives, colours, flavourings and preservatives and will be better able to control levels of salt, sugar and fat in your diet
If you need a handy reminder of the kind of dietary habits that will improve vigour and help you feel younger, here’s what you need to know:
Finally, a healthy diet should provide all the nutrients you need for good health; however, because of the way our food is farmed and prepared today, even the best-quality products may not contain all the necessary vitamins, minerals and other elements. What’s more, as we become older our bodies may not assimilate food as efficiently as they once did.
We now know that certain nutrients play a role in encouraging optimum health and vitality, and supplements can ensure that we get good levels of these. For all these reasons a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement is a good idea.
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