How to fight ageing with superfoods
What you eat is one of the primary factors in determining how well you look and feel. Diet and lifestyle choices have a huge impact on your general health and appearance, as well helping to prevent diseases such as cancer, dementia and diabetes. Yet more than 80 per cent of Australians don’t eat enough fruit and 50 per cent don’t consume enough vegetables, according to research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Studies also indicate that many of us are not consuming sufficient levels of iron, zinc, vitamin A and selenium. Evidently, the potent anti-ageing power of food is being under-utilised, with many of us not even ensuring that our diets meet basic nutritional needs, let alone address the slow decline of the body that occurs with age.
Food can slow the ageing and degeneration of the body predominantly through the activity of antioxidants, which provide a strong defence against the actions of free radicals, a main offender in causing DNA damage, disease and ageing. Although poor diet can rapidly increase their effects, free radicals are unavoidable, as they are formed during day-to-day functions such as breathing and eating. Conversely, antioxidants stabilise free radicals and minimise the damage they cause.
By making optimal food choices you can reduce excess free radical production and increase your consumption of antioxidants. This will have a domino effect, slowing your natural ageing process and reducing the effects of environmental factors such as pollution and stress, which accelerate ageing. But, even if you are careful about your food choices and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, you may still be able to fine-tune your meals further to boost your intake of anti-ageing nutrients.
Many of the antioxidants your body needs to mop up free radicals are not from specific vitamins and minerals but from a range of substances known as phytonutrients. These powerful plant constituents also act synergistically to enhance the effect of other antioxidants. Phytonutrients are produced by plants to increase their chance of survival and encourage growth. They work within plants to aid detoxification and to attract or repel pests. So, thanks to the marvels of nature, we are able to reap the rewards through their fantastic flavours and health effects.
There are thousands of these plant-powered substances and we are uncovering more every day. Eat to ensure longevity by including a wide range of phytonutrients in every meal.
A colourful plate is a healthy plate. Consuming a rainbow of foods every day is a simple and flavour-boosting way to ensure you are getting a wide variety of nutrients and their equally wide array of therapeutic effects. If you usually eat a small range of vegetables and fruit on high rotation, it’s time to treat your plate more like a painter’s palette and enjoy the full range of phytonutrients the plant world has to offer.
Potent choices include:
- Black grapes
- Red cabbage
These fruits and vegies get their colour from anthocyanins and phenolics, which are potent antioxidants. They have been linked to reduced rates of colon cancer, inflammation and damaged blood vessel walls (which equates to a healthier cardiovascular system due to a reduced chance of stroke). Blueberries have even been found to improve conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s because of their strong antioxidant action and ability to cross the blood–brain barrier. Recent research from the Cornell University Department of Food Sciences shows blueberries have the highest cellular antioxidant activity of any fruit.
Red foods contain an important phytonutrient antioxidant known as lycopene, which has been linked to reduced rates of breast, prostate and bowel cancer. This antioxidant is from a group known as carotenoids and has been found to be most effective when concentrated through heat, so get that pasta sauce on the stove.
Treat your palate to the following:
- Pink grapefruit
Packed with phytonutrients such as limonene, lutein and bromelain, yellow foods help to lower levels of breast cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke and skin cancer, according to various studies. This is thought to be due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Enjoy a daily dose or more of any of the following:
- Yellow squash
- Yellow capsicum
Your mother was right when she insisted you always eat your greens. Whether dark or light, green foods are high in lutein and indoles. Lutein has been shown to reduce skin cancer, prostate cancer and macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness). Indole is also linked to the reduction of a range of cancers because of its effect on tumour growth. Plus, green vegies are an incredible source of folic acid, which is vital for healthy cell formation and good cardiovascular health. So fill your shopping trolley with more:
- Runner beans
- Green apples
Like red vegies, orange-coloured foods are fantastic sources of carotenoids. In particular, they are a great source of a fat-soluble nutrient called beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Deficiencies of this antioxidant nutrient have been linked to poor lung, eye and respiratory health as well as reduced levels of cancer-killing immune cells. So see better in the dark by tucking into some of the following:
- Sweet potato, or kumera
Although brown doesn’t seem the most vital of colours, it is just as important as the rest of the rainbow of foods — if for no other reason than its high levels of fibre. Fibre can’t be underestimated because of its role in a healthy digestive tract, which leads to reduced circulating toxins and so fewer free radicals. Brown foods are also high in a phytonutrient called lignan. It, too, is responsible for a healthy digestive system because of its positive effect on good gut bacteria. A high intake of lignan has been linked to a reduction of a range of cancers including prostate, endometrial and breast. The foods to keep in mind for these benefits are:
- Brown rice
- Wholemeal pasta
Last but not least are white fruits and vegetables, many of which contain sulfides, important for healthy liver detoxification and therefore a reduction in free radicals. The sulphur-smelling white foods, such as cauliflower and onions, are particularly beneficial. Many white foods are also high in selenium, an antioxidant Australian soils are depleted in. Deficiencies of selenium lead to higher rates of a range of cancers. In addition, white vegetables are known for their anti-bacterial and heart health benefits. So, along with their often strong flavour, they are an essential component in a healthy anti-ageing diet. Boost your intake by eating more:
- White nectarines
The big balance
It’s clear from their many disease-fighting properties that phytonutrients and the fruits and veg they’re found in can help you reach your goal of longevity. However, the balance of foods you eat is also pivotal to minimising free radicals while ensuring you feel well and energetic and maintain a healthy glow. While carbohydrates like bread and rice are your body’s fuel, protein such as chicken and eggs form the building blocks of your tissue. Fats are also vital because they enhance individual cell and hormone health.
In short, a diet that contains complex carbohydrates, lean protein and low levels of saturated or trans fats leads to fewer free radicals and so greater anti-ageing effects. By contrast, a diet high in simple carbs (such as refined flours), high-fat proteins and damaged and saturated oils can mean reduced antioxidant intake as well as an increase in your production of free radicals.
In light of the current debate among experts on the ratio of these different food groups, the best approach is probably to take the middle road and not make dietary changes that are extreme. This means you should aim for an intake of roughly 50 per cent carbohydrates to 35 per cent protein to 15 per cent fats. To understand why this ratio balances your diet, it helps to grasp the basic principles of the major food groups.
Foods such as rye bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and rolled oats are high in carbohydrates. To avoid boredom and increase your nutrient scope, include less common grains such as millet, buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth. These last two are particularly good choices because of their relatively high vitamin and protein levels and the fact that they are usually found in their wholegrain form.
The choice of wholegrains (complex carbohydrates) over refined grains (simple carbohydrates) is particularly important. Not only does it increase your intake of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, it also leads to more balanced blood sugar levels and less chance of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Scientific research has shown a link between a diet high in refined grains and greater rates of cancer. Plus, refined grains increase inflammation in your body, so lead to more free radicals.
Fish, chicken, lamb and beef are examples of rich animal sources of protein that help to ensure healthy cell turnover and growth. Choose organic meats to avoid any unintended intake of hormones and antibiotics. Go for lean cuts and protect your heart health and weight. When choosing fish, go for wild varieties rather than farmed fish, which is often high in antibiotics. To avoid mercury contamination, choose Australian varieties of smaller deep-sea oily fish such as salmon, mackeral, tuna and sardines.
Legumes/nuts & seeds
Like grains, these are fantastic sources of a wide range of different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They generally have lower levels of carbs and higher levels of protein, making them particularly beneficial if you are vegan or vegetarian. An added bonus is that nuts and seeds provide good-quality unsaturated oils, which are vital for healthy skin, hair, hormones and heart. Because of their oil, fibre and protein content, they are great for maintaining healthy blood sugar balance and reduce the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. A handful of mixed nuts and seeds or some homous on a wholemeal crispbread are the perfect healthy snack.
Foods such as milk and cheese offer varying levels of protein, carbohydrates and, unfortunately, saturated fats. Dairy food is often a controversial food group as more and more people are developing intolerances such as lactose sensitivity. Knowing the alternatives and options can help you make better choices. Remember that conventional milks can contain hormones, so your best choice is to go organic whenever you can. Goat’s milk and goat’s cheese are both easier to digest than cow’s milk but are on par nutritionally. Yoghurt is another great dairy source, containing good gut bacteria as well as being lower in lactose (just ensure you go for a natural variety with no added sugar or preservatives and flavours).
Oils form the outer layer of every single cell in your body. When you ensure a good intake of the right kind of oils, your cells are stronger and work together more effectively. This means better overall health, but especially in your skin, heart, brain and hormone balance. So how can you ensure you choose the good rather the bad or the just plain ugly?
Unsaturated vegetable-sourced oils are preferable to saturated meat-sourced ones. But it’s not just as simple as avoiding animal fats and eating veg-based ones. You need to keep in mind that even when oils start out as healthy choices, they can be manipulated to become trans fats — an even bigger problem than saturated fats, particularly for heart and cellular health. Margarine is a perfect example. Often in its manufacture, a process of hydrogenation is used, which damages the oils so much that butter is often a healthier option. To solve this problem, consider using small quantities of butter or natural substitutes such as avocado or tahini for a spread on bread and crispbreads.
When choosing and using oils, another fact to consider is that even a good-quality oil becomes damaged when heated. The solution? Dry fry (or cook in a little water) and add your oil afterwards. Alternatively, use oils that are not so easily damaged — olive oil is good choice and coconut oil is even better, as the temperature at which damage occurs is much higher than with other vegetable oils.
Finally, make sure the oils you consume have the right balance between omega-3s and -6s. Most people tend to get an over-supply of omega-6s, which are found in vegie oils, and an undersupply of omega-3s. The -3s are harder to come by as the main sources today are fish and flaxseed oils. Ensuring you consume one or both of these daily will lead to healthier, more supple cells and set you on the path to longevity.
Once you know which foods accelerate and decelerate ageing, you take the first step towards adopting a youth-enhancing diet. The second step is to commit to incorporating more of these foods into your daily meals even when you’re tired or rushed or both. Whether you decide to make great leaps of change or small steps, remember that every little bit counts, so colour your plate, mix ‘n’ match your food groups and you’ll be as young on the inside as you look on the outside.
|PHYTONUTRIENT||VARIETIES||EFFECTS ON YOUR BODY|
Flavonones, anthocyanidins, quercetin, rutin, chatechins
Anti-viral, anti-platelet, anti- inflammatory, anti- tumour
Carotenes, linalool, menthol
Anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-bacterial
Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) is a scale devised to measure the antioxidant levels of foods. The more of these higher ORAC value foods you consume, the closer to a long and healthy life you are. Below are the top 15 to maximise your antioxidant intake, but keep in mind that the values are per 100g. As people rarely consume such substantial levels of fresh herbs, I haven’t included them in the list, even though many of them rate in the tens of thousands. Every bit counts, though, so by using them in your cooking and salads you are boosting your intake of antioxidants all the time.
Raw ginger 14,800
Unsweetened cocoa powder 8200
Cabernet sauvignon 5000
Take a tea break
In recent times, more and more research is linking black tea to the fantastic health benefits once only associated with its green version. Two or more cups a day seem to reduce cardiovascular health risks as well as protect from a range of cancers including skin cancer. All the more reason to enjoy your daily cuppa! The debate is still on, but unfortunately there seems to be some evidence showing tea’s health benefits are negated by the addition of milk. This is thought to be due to the binding effect of dairy food on tea’s antioxidants. It might be worthwhile to try to wean yourself off milk as it seems that perhaps black is best.
An anti-ageing/longevity diet is not just about ensuring you get good levels of antioxidants. Below is a range of problematic foods and ingredients that encourage free radical production. If consumed in an otherwise healthy diet, they will negate some of your efforts to maximise nutrient and antioxidant intake.
Too much salt in your diet can lead to all manner of inflammatory and allergic reactions. To reduce salt, avoid processed foods and season meals with a selection of dried herbs and spices.
Sugar molecules glue themselves to our skin and also attach to our veins, arteries, ligaments, bones and even brain tissue. We then suffer from stiff joints, hardened arteries and failing organs, not to mention wrinkles.
Salamis, ham and bacon all contain preservatives such as nitrates, which are known to be carcinogenic. Where possible, choose protein foods such as chicken or fish. Or if you can’t live without ham and bacon, search out some free-range, nitrate-free varieties. Aside from their health benefits, their taste is vastly superior.
Again, a potential carcinogen, but don’t despair — there’s a number of natural versions, such as stevia or xylitol, that do the same job without ramping up free radical activity in your body.
Corn syrup and fructose
These “non-sugar” sweeteners are on the rise in a range of products. Both are much harder for your liver to break down and, again, counteract the antioxidants you are trying so hard to consume. Many food manufacturers are now trying to fool people into thinking their product has no added sugar and is lower GI, even though it is high in corn syrup or fructose, which may be worse for health.
Artificial colours and preservatives
The huge range of these chemicals in processed products may cause health problems ranging from allergies to liver damage. Avoid them by reading food labels and choosing less processed options.
Although one or two coffees a day is fine for most people, more than that will start putting a strain on your liver, heart and adrenals. Moderation is the key. The same goes for tea; despite its antioxidant properties, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, particularly if constant caffeine hits are causing you to experience dehydration and adrenal surges, leading to anxiety.
Genetically modified (GM) foods
These are best avoided as there’s a lot of debate over their safety, with many experts arguing that simply not enough time has passed for us to know the kind of adverse health reactions and food sensitivities GM foods may cause.