Growing older is a desirable biological process (consider the alternative!), and our senior years should be a wonderful time of life with minimum stress and lots of opportunities to enjoy the benefits of decades of hard work. However, aging can be accompanied by decay and dismay, as our bodies and minds begin to fail us. There is no gene that signals our bodies to degenerate, and it is believed the aging process is more a result of lifelong accumulation of molecular damage.
Many age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis are linked to this molecular breakdown. The goal of anti-aging nutrition is to reduce this cellular injury, promoting and prolonging our health so that we look and feel good in our later years. Most advertisements about aging tout expensive creams and invasive surgeries to superficially counter the effects of getting older, but the real way to combat this decline is to work from the inside out.
Conditions such as stress, chronic inflammation and poor diet result in poor skin integrity, which makes us look older faster. They also promote cognitive deterioration, and loss of bone and muscle strength. Many of these effects can be delayed by using what is readily available on the shelves in our kitchen!
Age Busters in the Pantry
Berries: Antioxidant-rich foods are super age-busters, since they combat the results of stress and inflammation on our cells, and berries are a potent source of antioxidants. From familiar blueberries and raspberries to the more exotic acai, the sweet flavor and rich color of berries make them a cinch to add to any meal or snack. Fresh, frozen or dried, they retain many of their benefits.
Culinary Herbs: Curcumin, also known as turmeric, is a yellow herb that is more than just a delicious component of Asian and Indian cuisine. It contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used medicinally in other cultures for centuries. Because curcumin inhibits a compound called NF- kappaB, which turns on inflammatory processes, it can defend against cellular damage. Evidence also exists that turmeric provides protection against Alzheimer’s. Ginger is another herb that combines delicious taste with therapeutic benefits. The root and oil of ginger contain anti-inflammatory cyclooxygenase (COX2) inhibitors that are similar to those found in medications such as Celebrex. Ginger and curcumin are also cancer protective, and support good skin integrity.
Fatty fish: Forgo your fear of fat! Lipids provide the cushion that plumps the skin and diminishes wrinkles. Too little of this insulation leaves skin saggy and wilted. Fattier fish, such as salmon and sardines, provide omega-3s, which are an especially wonderful type of fat. Omega 3s, also known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), help reduce inflammation. These lipids also support healthy brain function, and protect against the cognitive decline that often occurs in later years. Since fish can contain age-promoting toxic elements such as mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), try to consume only wild-caught fish, and avoid the most toxic types such as swordfish and Chilean sea bass.
Nuts and seeds: Want more foods to reduce wrinkles and sagging skin? Grab a handful of nuts or seeds. Not only are nuts and seeds nutrient dense and very satisfying, they provide the healthy fats that keep our skin radiant and supple. Nuts have also been shown to reduce coronary heart disease and control diabetes. An ounce or so of nuts, chopped and sprinkled over cereal, as a snack with dried berries, or as a crust for fatty fish makes an anti-aging wonder meal.
Tea: Bursting with antioxidants, green tea is a dynamo of health and age resistance. Drinking one or two cups daily protects the heart and fights inflammation, while studies show it can protect DNA from age-related damage. Soothing hot and refreshing when iced, with lemon or raw honey or simply plain, getting into the green-tea habit is a smart move.
Garlic: The powerfully enticing aroma and flavor of garlic come from compounds that also preserve youth. Garlic has strong antioxidant properties and research indicates that it can protect against cardiovascular disease, decrease blood thinning, fight cancer, and guard against diseases associated with cerebral aging such as arthritis and cataract formation. The benefits are evident from the outside as well since garlic can rejuvenate skin, and increase energy levels.
Leafy greens: Follow Popeye’s lead and eat your spinach, or add kale, collards or Swiss chard to your menu; these dark greens are chock-full of protective compounds with names like polyphenols, flavonoids and carotenoids, as well as important vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and folic acid. When eaten regularly, they slow down the aging process by protecting cells from molecular insults. Eat them raw in salads, sautéed or grilled, pulsed in a smoothie or even as a tasty chip to get a daily dose of age-prevention.
Remaining physically and mentally vibrant well into our 80s and 90s is possible. No matter what your current age, now is the time to stop cellular damage and the effects of aging with the delicious arsenal of weapons available in your kitchen.
Vicki Kobliner MS RD, CD-N is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Holcare Nutrition (www.holcarenutrition.com). Vicki works with infants, children and adults with digestive disorders, food allergies, ADHD, autism and other chronic illness, and provides fertility and prenatal nutrition counseling. Vicki has extensive experience in using dietary modification, appropriate supplementation and functional lab testing to achieve optimal wellness. She can be reached at 203.834.9949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.