For centuries, the quest for a longer life has led seekers to far-off places, expensive products and magic potions. The anti-aging movement today has morphed into a multibillion-dollar industry that draws people to the skin cream counter, the spa or the vitamin aisle.
But talk to one wise Miami great-grandmother and she’ll tell you to head straight to the fruit and vegetable bins if you want to feel young. “The real magic potion is a healthy diet and exercise,” said Marilyn Jacobs, who has lost 35 pounds since August.
“Knowing what to eat and not to eat, how much to eat, reading labels — it makes you feel healthier and in control,” said Jacobs, who has been working with dietitian Cathy Clark-Reyes at Baptist Health Primary Care. “Eating healthier is a process.”
Part of that process includes dropping foods with lots of starch, sugar and preservatives.
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“As soon as a person walks in, I can tell whether that person has a good diet or a poor diet,” Clark-Reyes said. “If a person has a poor diet, you can see that in their skin and nails.”
Conversely, a person who eats a healthy diet “usually has a more youthful glow, better skin and more pep in their step,” she said.
And that’s what anti-aging and super foods help accomplish: They reduce the risk of various ailments and promote well-being.
“You eat foods so that your skin is looking as good as it can, your eyes are seeing as long as they can,” said Sheah Rarback, director of the nutrition division at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and a Miami Herald columnist. “You want to keep your blood pressure low, your bones as strong as they can be, keep muscles intact and keep metabolism going.”
Nutritionists urge everyone to eat a rainbow of colors to pack in the most nutrients and power foods.
”The most colorful part of a store is the produce section,” said Clark-Reyes. “We should be looking for foods with color. Your plate should not be loaded with brown or creamy foods.
“Fruits and vegetables have a lot of antioxidants,” which “help protect the body’s cells from the damage of oxidation caused by the foods we eat, lifestyle, smoking, excessive alcohol and pollution,” she said. “It’s like WD-40 to our cells.”
One powerful antioxidant getting attention is resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes and red wine. Researchers are looking at resveratrol as a way to protect the body against obesity and diabetes and decrease inflammation and blood clots. Good news for chocolate lovers— resveratrol is also found in dark chocolate, as well as blueberries and cranberries.
As for beverages, don’t forget water. “We should be drinking more than eight glasses a day,” said Gina Sweat, a dietitian with Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston.
And while they’re not recommending a caffeine binge, nutritionists say that coffee and tea have their benefits. New studies show that drinking coffee could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes or Parkinson’s and may protect against skin cancer, Rarback said.
She also urges people to get enough protein, through lean meats and beans. “As people get older, they lose muscle mass,” Rarback said. “You want to get enough protein to maintain muscular strength.”
Here, then, are 10 foods that help cut down on health risks and keep your heart, brain and bones healthy.
1. Almonds: It’s a toss-up between walnuts and almonds for the super nut title. Both are a good type of fat. They provide B vitamins essential for the heart and brain, help lower bad cholesterol and help lower cancer risk, said Baptist’s Clark-Reyes. Walnuts may also help reverse brain aging and cognitive deficits. But don’t forget the humble peanut, said UM’s Rarback. “They’re not as sexy as almonds,” but recent studies show they are also rich in unsaturated fatty acids, fiber and vitamins — all known to help heart health — and “they can be more reasonably priced” than other nuts, she said.
2. Avocados: They’re high in heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat, raising good cholesterol, lowering bad cholesterol and protecting artery walls. Experts credit avocados with reducing stroke and heart attack risk. “Keeps your blood flowing and your brain going,” said Rarback. Avocados are also among many fruits and vegetables that fight inflammation. They’re an excellent source of potassium and several vitamins, including Vitamin C, K and E. Both the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association recommend avocados.
3. Beans: White beans. Black beans. Red beans. All beans are anti-aging stars for their high antioxidant level. They’re a fine source of protein, help regulate blood sugar, help lower cholesterol, and they’re a good source of potassium and magnesium. Their folic acid is also good for the brain. Add beans to soups, salads and other dishes.
4. Berries: Go for the deeply colored choices — blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. They’re super foods for a variety of reasons. They are a great source of antioxidants to help fight cancer and inflammation. They also help to protect your vision, and their seeds contain Omega 3. Fruits and veggies are a good source of potassium, which helps fight high blood pressure.
5. Broccoli sprouts: With their peppery flavor, these tiny buds add flavor to salads and stir fries while helping your body, said Rarback. Researchers have found that young broccoli sprouts contain up to 50 times more of the antioxidant sulforaphane than broccoli.
6. Green tea: Tea contains catechins, an antioxidant linked with a possible decrease of risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes, as well as possibly reducing incidence of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, said Clark-Reyes. “Don’t buy bottled green teas,” added Rarback. They often have a lot of added sugar. “Brew it yourself.” Other sources include white, black and Oolong tea, dark chocolate, strawberries, vegetables and red wine.
7. Kale: The veggie is the new dietary darling, everywhere these days. Dark green leafy vegetables are a “defense system against disease,” Clark-Reyes said. Along with kale, other good sources include collard greens, spinach and broccoli. They also provide calcium while fighting inflammation. Their antioxidants help improve and maintain good vision. Dark leafy greens are a good source of Vitamin A, along with carrots and sweet potatoes.
8. Kiwi: The tiny fruit is loaded with nutrients and low in calories. Sweat stresses the virtues of kiwi and guava as the fruits with “the highest content of Vitamin C.” For vegetables, bell peppers and broccoli are top sources, she said.
9. Quinoa: Quinoa provides fiber, which helps maintain a healthy digestive tract and can help reduce some types of cancer. Go for 100-percent grains. Good fiber choices include brown rice, wheat bran, peas, apples, oats, flaxseed and whole grain breads.
10. Salmon: It’s one of many fish choices with Omega 3 fatty acids, which help lower triglycerides and reduce blood clots, said Clark-Reyes. Other fatty fish include tuna, anchovies, sardines and barramundi. Omega 3 helps reduce inflammation and an added benefit — it might improve your mood and attitude.