Top 10 Foods to Help You Live a Longer, Healthier Life
Tracy Hampton, PhD Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent
DECEMBER 01, 2014
It’s important to strive for a healthy diet throughout life, but as our bodies change after middle age, it becomes especially important to consume an overall healthy diet to ensure intake of vital nutrients.
Shivani Sahni, MS, PhD, Director of the Nutrition Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research and a researcher in the Division of Gerontology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is examining the role of nutrition in the prevention of chronic diseases of aging. She offers a list of the top 10 foods and drinks for healthy aging, noting that different nutrients have important effects on several health outcomes related to aging.
First on her list are leafy greens such as salad greens, kale, and spinach, which are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K. Broccoli, bok choy, and mustard greens are also rich in many of the B-vitamins, she says.
“Additionally, these vegetables contain carotenoids — antioxidants that protect against chronic diseases of aging such as cancer and heart diseases,” Dr. Sahni says. “They also contain high levels of fiber and minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.”
Fish is not only a good source of protein; it also provides omega-3 fatty acids.
“Omega-3 fatty acids are considered to be anti-inflammatory, therefore fish intake may have health benefits related to protection against heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis,” says Dr. Sahni.
Additionally, protein is a building block of the body that becomes even more important for maintaining bone and muscle health as we age. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish — particularly fatty fish — per week.
Yogurt is another important food to include in the diet because it is rich in protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium.
“It helps in maintaining bone health with aging and has also been linked with better weight management,” says Dr. Sahni. “Additionally, it contains probiotics, or healthy bacteria, which aid in digestion and immune function.”
Older individuals also receive considerable benefits from whole grains like oats because they are a good source of complex carbohydrates, which are digested slowly, and soluble fiber, which plays a role in decreasing cholesterol, maintaining blood sugar levels, and supporting a healthy gut.
Colorful Fruits and Veggies
Fifth on Dr. Sahni’s list are brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, red cabbage, berries, cherries, and pomegranate. In addition to being packed with antioxidants and carotenoids, they’re also full of flavonoids like anthocyanins, which have been linked to a variety of health benefits. They tend to be rich in fiber as well.
“Overall consumption of a variety of these foods has been linked with reduced risk of heart diseases, certain types of cancers and cognitive decline,” says Dr. Sahni.
Beans should also be included in older individuals’ diets due to their lean protein content, which is required to prevent muscle loss with aging. Beans also provide complex carbohydrates for sustained energy and significant amount of fiber for satiety and blood sugar management.
Water is, of course, critical for life because every system in the body depends on it. Drinking water to stay hydrated is especially important as we age because the sense of thirst decreases later in life. Other drinks such as tea provide polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. Also, green tea consumption has been linked with reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Herbs and Spices
Adding herbs and spices can also boost the health effects of foods. For example, ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties.
“Active research is going on to see the effects of curcumin — an anti-inflammatory agent present in turmeric — on rheumatoid diseases and cancer, while cinnamon intake has been linked with blood sugar management,” says Dr. Sahni.
The “good” fats from nuts and olive oil should also be a dietary staple. Nuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3s, as well as vitamin E. Nuts, when consumed as a part of a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been linked with reduced mortality, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can help in lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
“Compounds specific to olive oil, known as phenolics, seem to reduce oxidative damage and may have beneficial effects on blood pressure, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, and immune function,” Dr. Sahni notes.
Finally, a moderate amount of wine in the diet can be a good source of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help prevent health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. Many studies are pointing to the benefits of a particular polyphenol, called resveratrol, for combating many of the conditions associated with advanced age.
Older individuals should check with their health care provider about their diet, because some may need additional calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B12 supplementation.
“Maintaining a healthy diet can help us achieve optimal health throughout our lives,” says Dr. Sahni, “and it’s never too late to start consuming a balanced diet for good health and well-being.”
Above content provided by Hebrew SeniorLife in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care and before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor.