Intuition may tell us that what we eat has a role in how well we age, from our skin’s appearance to overall physical vitality. But what’s the evidence?
“The link between diet and aging is not a new concept. The challenge for this area of nutrition is we have to look at very large populations, over a long period of time,” said Brandon Gruber, a registered nutritionist at Revive Wellness in Edmonton. “We may not be able to make the direct connection between aging and diet, but there are nutrients that help with certain processes in the body, to help us age well."
Silke Schagen, in her review of the link between nutrition and skin aging in the July 2012 issue of the Journal of Dermato-Endocrinology, concluded that prevention is the best and most effective way to work against aging of the skin.
Her evidence is based on the role antioxidants play in cellular health. Nutrients such as Vitamins E and C scavenge free radicals that do damage to cells, protein and DNA. Other compounds, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, reduce inflammation around cells and tissues.
The best strategy against the harmful action of free radicals, reported Silke, is a well regulated lifestyle and a diet that includes anti-oxidative rich food.
So what are some of the best foods for delivering antioxidant and anti-inflammatory assistance to our bodies? Below are five heavy hitters.
Blueberries – One of the more beneficial deeply coloured fruits, blueberries are filled with phytochemicals which can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on the body.
Look for wild blueberries if you can get them, as they contain more anthocyanins — a type of antioxidant that gives blueberries their unique color. Blueberries are also rich in vitamins A and C, both known for their powerful antioxidation properties. They also help protect against sun and pollution by moderating the inflammatory response and preventing collagen loss.
Spinach and broccoli – Like many dark leafy greens, spinach and broccoli are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, both of which help reduce inflammation and cellular damage. They also contain lutein, a powerful antioxidant, as well as iron and magnesium.
Spinach is also high in fibre, meaning it can assist in the digestive process, while broccoli contains other nutrients, including phosphorus and small amounts of zinc. Research has shown that the amount of antioxidants in spinach can drop by half after just a few days at room temperature.
Flaxseed – Inflammation of cells and tissues plays an important part in the aging process, so foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are good for fending off signs of aging.
One tablespoon of flaxseed offers about 1.8 grams of omega-3 and about 75 to 800 times more lignans than other seeds or nuts. Lignans have powerful antioxidant properties. And the fibre in flaxseed is another good reason to add it to your soups, bread, stews and oatmeal.
Beans – As legumes go, beans pack a particularly big dose of fiber and protein, and are low in carbohydrates. And because beans also have anti-inflammatory properties, they’re great at slowing down the signs of aging. If you want the highest anti-inflammatory contribution, choose red beans, black beans, pinto beans and lentils.
Other foods that pack a punch when it comes to antioxidant properties include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangos and papaya. And Brandon Gruber suggested getting your vitamins and nutrients from whole foods if you can, rather than supplements.
There are exceptions such as Vit D – which is only found naturally in a few foods such as dairy products, tuna and salmon and hard to get in sufficient quantity – but if you’re getting the required amount of nutrients from foods, supplementing is only going to have limited benefits.
Kate Wilson has reported about Albertans for Albertans for almost 30 years. She leads a weekly meditation practice in Central Edmonton.