New research shows that a few simple changes in your daily routine may stretch your healthy middle years into your 80s and beyond. Registered dietician Elizabeth Somer shares some age-defying secrets from her new book, “Age-Proof Your Body.”
Secret #1: Double your current intake of fruits and vegetables
The most important diet habit you can adopt to slow, stop, even reverse the aging process is to increase your intake of colorful fruits and vegetables. A main underlying cause of all the age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to memory loss and cataracts, is oxygen fragments called oxidants or free radicals. Left unchecked, these oxidants damage cells and tissues, with the damage escalating as we get older. Fortunately, the body has an anti-free radical system, called antioxidants, that deactivates and rids the body of these damaging oxidants.
More than 12,000 antioxidant compounds have been identified in colorful produce. Many of these compounds also prevent the inflammation that underlies many diseases from heart disease to Alzheimer's. Boost your antioxidant arsenal by increasing intake of deep-colored produce and you not only lower your risk for all age-related diseases and help stack the deck in favor of stretching the healthy middle years into your 80s or beyond, but research shows you also will look and feel younger and have an easier time managing your waistline. For example, a recent study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that seniors who ate the most colorful produce maintained better memories as they got older; just adding an extra serving of vegetables was all it took to retain the thinking ability of someone five years younger.
Americans currently average only four servings of produce a day. Skip the potatoes, iceberg lettuce and apple juice and instead, have a sweet potato, a salad made with romaine lettuce and a glass of orange or V8 juice. Eat some raw as in a salad, some cooked as in steamed broccoli, and you even can meet your goal of eight or more servings a day by drinking your vegetables and fruits!
Aim for two fruits or vegetables at every meal and one at every snack, such as a cranberries sprinkled on your cereal, served with a half cantaloupe at breakfast; a tossed salad with your sandwich and a glass of tomato juice at lunch; and a double serving of green peas or asparagus at dinner.
Secret #2: Good fats, bad fats
Some fats, such as saturated and trans fats, speed the aging process and escalate the risks of heart disease, memory loss, cancer and more. Pro-aging foods should be reduced, such as red meat, fatty dairy products and anything made with hydrogenated vegetables oils. An added benefit of cutting back on the saturated and trans fats is it might perk up your love life! For centuries, blood testosterone levels plunge by 50% in men after they consume high-fat meals. In addition, a high-fat diet also clogs arteries, and blocked arteries are a common cause of impotence. Switch from a fatty diet to one packed with produce, whole grains and healthy fats and you might just notice the difference in the bedroom as well as on the scale!
Healthy fats are the monounsaturated fats in extra-virgin olive oil and the fats in fish. The omega-3 fat in fish called DHA is of particular importance to protect the brain, heart and eyes from aging. Several studies show that DHA might help prevent aspects of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, while low levels of this omega-3 fat are associated with cognitive decline in healthy seniors. Other studies show that people who include DHA in their diets also have lower risks for the main causes of vision loss as we age, including macular degeneration. Most people know that the omega-3s are important in the prevention of heart disease; even the American Heart Association recommends these fats for lowering heart disease risk. While the omega-3 fat in walnuts and flaxseed is healthy, it is not very efficiently converted to DHA in the body. So, your best and really only reliable sources of this healthy fat are fatty seafood, such as salmon, or foods fortified with a vegetarian source of DHA made from marine algae.
Secret #3: Supplement right
You need more vitamins as you get older. Take vitamin D for example. Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but gradually lose this ability with age. People in their 20s make only 80% of the vitamin D that their bodies made when they were in third grade. By the time a person is in his or her 70s, that production has dropped to only 40%. That means dietary sources become increasingly more important to ensure strong bones throughout life.
So, while 200IU met those needs in our 20s, researchers at the University of Georgia recently found that we need up to 1000IU in later years. The same is true for vitamin B12, calcium and other nutrients. It is unrealistic to think people can get these levels of nutrients from diet alone, so hedge your bets and fill in the gaps by taking a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral. Make sure it contains at least 400IU of vitamin D and extra vitamin B12. If you're not drinking three glasses a day of milk or fortified soy milk, take a calcium-magnesium supplement that contains at least 500mg of calcium and 250mg of magnesium. That oxidative damage I mentioned before also escalates as we get older, so maintaining a vigorous antioxidant defense is critical to slowing the aging process. Consider a supplement, such as Protandim, that helps boosts your body's own production of antioxidants.
Secret #4: Stay lean with real food
Getting rid of the love handles is right up there with quitting smoking as a top way to stretch the healthy middle years into your 70s and 80s. With more than six out of every ten Americans now battling a weight problem, just dropping the pounds alone would add years to your life and life to your years. Even if you can't get down to an ideal body weight, people who are overweight would lower their risk for most age-related diseases and would extend those healthy years if they dropped 10% of their current body weight.
You'll find that weight loss is not that difficult if you just follow one simple rule: cut back on processed and fast foods and focus on real food. Processed foods not only pack on the pounds, but escalate the aging process. Numerous studies have found that the more processed and fast foods we eat, the heavier and sicker we are. Not surprisingly, every day that a person eats at a fast food restaurant, he or she consumes about 200 extra calories and increases the risk for obesity and age-related diseases. On the other hand, you automatically reduce calories when you base your diet on foods in their original form, such as oatmeal not granola bars, potatoes not french fries, 100% whole wheat bread instead of white bread and corn not corn chips.
Secret #5: Love those extracts!
Today some of my favorite indulgences, including red wine, tea and chocolate, are now considered as healthy as they are delicious. All three of these foods are extracts, which are condensed versions of antioxidant-rich plants, so it makes sense that they are concentrated sources of anti-aging phytochemicals called flavonoids.
Chocolate: A recent report from Harvard School of Public Health concluded that people who consume chocolate on a regular basis have almost a 20% lower risk for heart disease. Feed people chocolate and their blood levels of antioxidants rise, their arteries become more elastic, blood clots dissolve and their risk for heart disease drops.
Wine: Red wine contains a slew of health-boosting, antioxidant-rich compounds, such as phenols, flavonoids and resveratrol, that protect arteries from inflammation and damage. Red wine has up to 20 times the antioxidants of white wine. These compounds prevent the bad cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, from being damaged by oxygen fragments. Damaged LDLs are most prone to sticking to artery walls, contributing to the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Wine and its antioxidants also might lower the risk for dementia and macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss, and might even extend life. Resveratrol blocks cancer-causing substances.
Tea: Antioxidants in green tea are linked to a lowered risk of cancer, heart disease and numerous other age-related disorders. A recent study found that drinking green tea might delay loss of memory and appears to promote healthy aging of the brain.
The bottom line? When it comes to chocolate, it must contain at least 70% cocoa powder to do the trick. So, chocolate ice cream, milk chocolate or even chocolate cream-filled candies don't count. It must be the dark stuff! If you drink alcohol, switch to red wine, but don't go overboard! One glass a day for women and up to two glasses a day for men appears to maximize the benefits without increasing the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. And green tea? Looks like the more you drink, the better — up to five cups a day.
I've mentioned five little diet steps to slow, stop and even reverse the aging process. But, keep in mind that there is no getting around it — you must exercise. You need some aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or biking) every day to burn fat and keep your heart in good shape, and strengthening activities (weight lifting) to maintain your muscles, even if it is just lifting milk jugs in the kitchen.
Finally, attitude makes a world of difference in how you age. It isn't much fun to prolong your life if you are going to be negative and crabby in the extra years. Every 100-year-old that I interviewed for my book was vital, vibrant and feisty. They told me to “never give up,” “always be good to people,” “be grateful for everything,” and even told me that you are only old when you start feeling sorry for yourself. So, the three parts that make up the anti-aging program are: eat well, move more and enjoy every minute!