Diet is very important in aging gracefully. When we talk about aging gracefully that includes all the aspects of aging not just looking younger. Skin health is a part of the overall picture of aging gracefully, but brain health, bone health, joint health, energy level, cardiovascular health, and digestive health, just to name a few, also need to be considered. Think about the types of problems we all typically face as we age. It’s not just about wrinkles and liver spots. Most people see changes in eyesight, hearing, circulation, elimination, bone strength, and many other bodily functions that younger people take for granted. Skin health is important though and not just for how we look. The skin is the first line of defense in the immune system for keeping out germs. My 90 year old neighbor has such paper-thin skin that almost any contact with it causes skin to peel back leaving it open to infection. There are foods and food supplements that can help our bodies towards aging gracefully. Here are a few types of foods to include in the diet that can go a long way towards helping you in aging gracefully.
Aging Gracefully: Foods that Alkalize
Eating too many foods with processed sugar, artificial sweeteners, meat, dairy and refined grains can lead to overacidity in the body which can then lead to a variety of chronic health conditions. When there is too much acid present, the body tries to balance itself. If it cannot get the alkaline from foods we eat then it often will draw from bones and tissues. Eating alkaline foods can help balance the acidity. Some foods that can help with alkalizing are:
- Brussels sprouts
- sea vegetables
Aging Gracefully: Foods with Healthy Fats
Fatty acids DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are healthy omega-3 fatty acids needed for the brain and nervous system in particular. Omega-3 is also known to lower cholesterol, lower risk of dementia, reduce the risk of stroke and help with inflammation that can cause atherosclerosis. Since our bodies produce very little of these naturally, we must get them from the foods we eat. Coldwater fish like salmon, tuna, halibut and mackerel are a good source because the fish eat algae with is a rich natural source of these omega-3s. If you are not a fish lover, then other sources include walnuts, flaxseed, leafy green vegetables and of course you can eat bluegreen algae supplements. When eating nuts remember that while many varieties have antioxidants, proteins and other health benefits such as reducing LDL and raising HDL cholesterol, go easy on them so as not to overdo the fat.
When adding fat into your diet, make sure you avoid transfats and saturated fats and stick with the healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Other foods with healthy fats include:
- Cod which has selenium to protect skin from sun damage
- Olive oil can help with memory, and high cholesterol
- Avocados which also have biotin for hair and skin health
- Peanut butter
- Canola oil
Aging Gracefully: Foods with Antioxidants
Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage, help with cellular repair, replace lipids in the membranes that have been damaged and act as cleansers or scavengers for free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that contribute to the aging process by damaging healthy cells. Eating foods with antioxidants can help fight off the damage caused by these free radicals which is most noticeably seen as wrinkled skin, but can lead to more serious conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants can be found in colorful vegetables and fruits like berries, beets, and tomatoes. Here is a list of some foods that are high in antioxidants that can help in aging gracefully.
- Leafy greens like lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and arugula provide antioxidant vitamins A and C
- green tea
- blue green algae
- edible grasses
- Tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, asparagus and red cabbage are high in the antioxidant lycopene
- Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale are not only high in vitamin C, but also beta-carotene, fiber, calcium, iron, zinc and folate
- Beans not only are a good source of antioxidants, but also of lean protein and fiber
- Grapes have the antioxidant resveratrol which can help in reducing the risk of cancer, promote a healthy cardiovascular system and aid in fighting signs of aging
- Blood oranges have anthocyanins to help fight off damage from free radicals and UV rays
- Brazil nuts contain selenium that helps produce antioxidant glutathione for healthy skin and repairing damaged cells
Aging Gracefully: Foods with Fiber
Fiber is important for digestive and heart health. Adding whole grains and other high fiber foods to your diet can lower the risk of Type II diabetes, support healthy blood vessels, help prevent acid reflux, lower cholesterol, aid in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and help with weight loss and constipation. There are 2 kinds of fiber both of which are important to balance in your diet. Insoluble fiber from foods such as seeds, grains and vegetable and fruit skins and soluble fiber such as found in oatmeal, nuts and beans. Some foods with soluble fiber act as a prebiotic to feed the healthy bacteria in our bodies which is essential for not only a healthy digestive system, but also immune system health. When adding more fiber to your diet be sure to also drink more water to avoid constipation. Foods that are good sources of fiber include:
- brown rice
- bran flakes
- black beans
- green peas
- Brussels sprouts
Aging Gracefully: Healthy Digestion Support
Even if you are eating a healthy diet, you don’t get the benefits from it if you aren’t digesting it properly so that your body gets the benefit from it. Making sure you have a healthy digestive system and that the foods you eat are broken down into particles the body can use will ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs in a form it can use. When food is digested properly blood and nutrients are able to circulate freely to the skin which keeps it healthy and vibrant looking. Adding food enzymes to the diet can complete the metabolization of fat, proteins and carbs when taken with food. Taken between meals they are absorbed into the blood and can help clean out residual food particles. There are four types of enzymes that break down food molecules:
- lipase for fat molecules
- protease for protein
- cellulase for cellulose
- amylase for starch molecules
Enzymes found naturally in foods become inactive when food is over cooked or processed. Most of us don’t get all the enzymes we need for proper digestion for this reason. Not having enough active enzymes puts extra stress on the pancreas, liver and spleen as they have to work overtime to produce enzymes that we are not getting from the foods we eat. Adding pickled, and lightly cooked or raw fruits and vegetables to your diet can help get you extra enzymes. Taking a high quality digestive enzyme supplement that can breakdown foods under acid conditions such as one containing Mycopepsin is another way to increase your enzyme level.
The beneficial bacteria in our intestines is also very important to the digestive process. They support proper digestion and help eliminate waste. The problem is that there are so many things that can throw off the balance of these friendly bacteria. Antibiotics, antacids, other medications, radiation, stress, chemicals in our food, water or air are just some of the things that can contribute to throwing off this balance allowing an overgrowth of yeast and unfriendly bacteria. Adding probiotics to the diet can help balance the friendly bacteria which aid in the digestive process and take stress off of the immune system.
Latobacilluls acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus, better known as acidophilus and bifidus, are found naturally in the intestines. Acidophilus is needed for nutrient absorption and is found along the wall of the small intestine. It activates vitamin production, helps in digestion of food, and in lactose tolerance. Bifidus helps with absorbing water from foods, helps prevent bloating and gas, and aids in the eliminating of waste materials.
Aging Gracefully: Fighting Inflammation
Inflammation in the body can wreak havoc with everything from causing skin to look older to affecting bone density and muscle mass to arthritis. Inflammation normally is an immune system response to fight off infections and foreign invaders in the body. There are times however when this response is triggered when these conditions are not present which can result in swelling in the body’s tissues and sometimes damage to the tissues. This over-response of the immune system can sometimes be attributed to eating a diet high in processed and refined foods with sugars and food additives, transfats, and fried foods. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can help fight off the damage from this chronic inflammation. This would include most of the foods we’ve already mentioned such as whole grains, fatty fish, dark leafy greens, nuts and a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes and beets. Another natural solution to support the body in dealing with inflammation is a supplement we like that combines phycocyanin (the unique blue pigment from bluegreen algae), Ecklonia cava (Seanol®, a marine algae), standardized turmeric, bromelain, and bluegreen algae.
Yes, diet is a key when it comes to healthy aging. Whatever age you are now you can start considering what you want your senior years to be like and eat accordingly. Getting older doesn’t have to be so hard when you have a diet and plan for aging gracefully.