We tackle the external signs of aging with lotions, dyes and other cosmetic tactics, but pampering the insides is just as important. Eating nutritious foods and staying physically active are the keys to health and vitality. Taking care of the three Bs — brain, bones and belly — benefits your entire body.
Our brains are 70 percent fat, and maintaining peak mental performance means feeding your brain its favorite fat — omega 3 fatty acids and specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, and a 2012 study published in the journal Neurology expands the findings to the brain.
This study tested red blood cell DHA levels, brain volume and cognitive functioning. Lower red blood cell DHA levels were associated with smaller brain volumes and a “vascular” pattern of cognitive impairment, even in individuals without clinical dementia.
The best natural sources of DHA are fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and anchovies. Some eggs, milk and other products have added omega 3 fatty acids. Walnuts, flax and olive oil contain a fatty acid that can be converted to DHA, but in a much smaller amount than that found in fish oils. Try for two or three servings of fatty fish a week. If you can’t manage that, consider a fish oil supplement or, for vegetarians a supplement from algae.
Maintain strong bones and good posture involves more than just calcium. Our bones need vitamin D to absorb calcium, magnesium for structural integrity and vitamin K for the formation of osteocalcin, a type of protein found only in bone.
Calcium and vitamin D are found in milk and milk substitutes. Dark green vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli are a trifecta with vitamin K, magnesium and calcium. Pumpkin seeds, black beans and quinoa are potent magnesium boosters. All these bone builders are packed with other health-enhancing phytonutrients, too.
Abdominal or visceral fat is the unhealthiest kind because it wraps vital organs. Visceral fat is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver and heart disease. It starts creeping in with age. Pants feel tight? That is belly fat. In addition to regular physical activity, there is a food intervention.
In a five-year study, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10 gram increase in dietary soluble fiber, visceral fat was reduced by 3.7 percent. When a half hour of exercise four times a week was added, visceral fat decreased by 7.4 percent.
The best sources of soluble fiber are oats, barley, ground flax, dried beans and peas, citrus, pears, strawberries, sweet potato, blueberries, psyllium, and carrots. Calculate your soluble fiber intake at globalrph.com; click “calculators by class” on the list at left, then scroll down to “Nutrition.”
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.