Too often, we like to focus on the immediate effects health and exercise –- the dress size, the number on the scale, the quick-fix "get toned now!" workout. But as we experience the effects of aging, it's a good time to stop and think of the long view. What can we do today to build a healthier future for ourselves? While there is no magic bullet, the list below demonstrates that eating certain foods may help reduce the effects of aging. Here's what you should start eating right now.
Tomatoes: The Heart-Helpers
Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is an antioxidant that may lower the risk of heart disease, macular degenerative disease (which can lead to blindness), and prostate cancer. Studies seem to indicate that eating cooked tomato products leads to better lycopene absorption than if you eat your tomatoes raw -- so bring on the tomato sauce.
Flaxseeds: The Anti-Cancer Add-Ons
Flaxseeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acids, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). UMMC also reports that lignans, a chemical compound found in flaxseed, can help protect you against certain types of cancers. How you consume this superfood is key: lignans are not found in flaxseed oil, and according to the Mayo Clinic's website, it's better to eat the seeds ground so the nutrients and fiber do not pass through your intestinal tract undigested. Sprinkle them in your morning oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothie, and bake them into muffins and other treats.
Blueberries: The Brain-Boosters
Blueberries have an impressive pedigree as a superfood. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, which are pigments that give the berries their color but, more importantly, make them beneficial as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. According to Steven Pratt, MD, of Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., blueberries may reduce the effects of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, though this has only been proven in animal studies.
Broccoli: The Joint Protector
Osteoarthritis is an age-related joint disorder that affects millions of people across the world. According to WebMD, the best prevention is staying active, avoiding injury, and maintaining a normal weight. But as the Huffington Post recently reported, a study at the University of East Anglia found that a compound in broccoli called sulforaphane can help prevent and slow cartilage damage and osteoarthritis. If you've never been one to eat your broccoli, you can get your sulforaphane fix from other cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, and arugula.
Beets: The Detoxifiers
Beets are a great source of betaine, which, according to WebMD, has been shown to help minimize fat deposits in the liver. They also contain antioxidants and naturally occurring nitrates, which help improve blood flow throughout the entire body.
Chocolate: For A Happy And Healthy Heart
While health claims that sound too good to be true often are, studies have shown that chocolate can be good for your long-term health -- and happiness. Cocoa contains plant nutrients called flavanoids, which have antioxidant qualities and may help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, according to WebMD. As for the mood boost -- that's the serotonin and caffeine talking. (Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is thought to stimulate feelings of well-being and happiness, according to studies cited in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.) Choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of over 70 percent for best results.
Edamame: The Menopause-Minder
All legumes should get their due for being an inexpensive, low-fat, high-fiber, and nutrient-dense addition to your diet. But soybeans are special in that they are rich in isoflavones -- compounds changed into phytoestrogens in the body. Research that links soy consumption to brain health has been inconclusive at best -- a fact borne out by a recent study of women between the ages of 45 to 92 conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine and the USC Keck School of Medicine. But on the bright side, a recent review conducted at the University of Delaware found that consuming two servings of soy per day could decrease the severity of hot flashes among women going through menopause.
Tea: The All-Purpose Anti-Ager
Green tea, white tea, black tea -- they all possess unique health benefits, mostly thanks to the antioxidant compounds in tea known as polyphenols. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, green tea contains the highest concentration of polyphenols among these varieties since it is made from unfermented leaves. And this beverage might even reduce the risk of stroke: The Huffington Post recently reported on a study conducted by Japan's National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center that found that participants who drank two to three cups of green tea a day had a 14 percent lower risk of stroke, and participants who drank four or more cups of green tea daily had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke. The study was conducted on 83,269 Japanese adults aged 45 to 74 over the course of 13 years. Of course, these claims come with a caveat: Dr. Ralph Sacco, former president of the American Heart Association, explained that your best bet for stroke prevention remains to "not smoke, be physically active and keep a good diet."
Ginger: The Pain Reliever
Ginger has long been used as a folk remedy for nausea and indigestion. But as Japanese researchers wrote in the Journal of Medicinal Food, ginger has also been used in transitional Indonesian medicine to alleviate joint pain and inflammation related to osteoarthritis. Another study, conducted on 60 middle-aged women in Thailand in 2012, linked ginger to improved cognitive function, although more research is needed to provide conclusive results. Regardless of its possible health properties, it's delicious in your favorite Asian cuisine (in stir-fries, pickled with sushi, in curries) and steeped in hot water to make tea.
Eggs: The "Healthier Than You Think" Protein Punch
Although eggs have been occasionally targeted for their high cholesterol content, they are full of essential nutrients and protein. In fact, according to a large-scale study of egg consumption and heart disease conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, eating one egg a day did not prove to have an adverse effect on healthy men and women. Now for the benefits: 6 grams of high-quality protein per egg, omega-3 fatty acids, and all of the essential B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, choline, biotin, and folic acid.
Kale: The Sight For Sore Eyes
You really can't go wrong with kale. This leafy green provides you with iron, calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and those trusty, brain-boosting omega-3s. According to WebMD, the lutein in kale, which is also found in other leafy vegetables like spinach and collard greens, can help prevent macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness in older adults. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, lutein is a carotenoid, which is a type of plant-based pigment that may also have antioxidant properties. Since carotenoids are fat-soluble, a 2005 study at Ohio State published in the Journal of Nutrition recommends eating the vegetable in combination with avocado oil to enhance your absorption of these important nutrients.
These nuts are high in fat -- but the heart-healthy, monounsaturated kind that may help lower cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, according USDA nutritional data gleaned by the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, many nuts have unique benefits: walnuts are rich in omega-3s, Brazil nuts are high in selenium (which may prevent prostate cancer), and peanuts are a good source of folate (which is important for cell health and growth). But almonds are a standout in that they provide a great variety of vitamins and minerals: magnesium, potassium, fiber, and Vitamin E. According to WebMD, magnesium is a vital mineral that helps prevent against inflammation-related disease like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin E boasts antioxidant properties, and the American Heart Association recommends potassium in combination with a low-sodium diet to reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
Salmon: Another Helper For Your Heart
Here are those omega-3 fatty acids again! According to the American Heart Association, the omega-3s found in oily fish like salmon can decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of plaque in your arteries, and lower blood pressure. The AHA recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week. A recent study in China also revealed that women who consume more omega-3 by eating fish were at a lower risk of having breast cancer.