When I think about food antidotes for aging body parts, I think of my Baby Boomer parents (sorry, Mom and Dad!). I don't think of myself or my husband. Turns out I should—and so should you—because what you eat can help ward off aging starting in your twenties or thirties. Don't despair, Mom and Dad, because it's not all downhill yet: there are also food antidotes when you're in your fifties, sixties and beyond! Here's what you can eat to keep your body healthy as you age.
From our mid-twenties on, the brain—particularly the frontal lobe, where much of problem-solving and short-term memory is processed—shrinks at a rate of 2 percent per decade. A 2006 study in Neurology showed that people who ate two or more daily servings of vegetables, especially leafy greens, had the mental focus of people five years their junior.
Related Link: 5 Brain-Boosting Foods for All Ages
As we age, nerve cells that control muscles that move food through the digestive tract gradually die off, especially in the large intestine—one reason why constipation may occur more frequently as you get older. Fiber helps keep things moving. Men 50-plus should aim for 30 grams of fiber per day; women, 21 grams. Get your fill by eating plenty of whole-grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables and beans.
Related Link: Delicious high-fiber whole-grain recipes
In our twenties, collagen (a fiber that keeps skin firm) is produced more slowly and dead skin cells are shed less quickly. Good genes can keep you looking young but research suggests that lycopene and beta carotene also may help by scavenging for free radicals that contribute to skin aging. Eat sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe and leafy greens for beta carotene and include lycopene-packed tomatoes and watermelon in your diet.
Related Link: Healthy Recipes for Glowing Skin
Metabolism slows by 1 to 2 percent each decade after age 30. When you're young, muscle burns up to 10 times more calories per pound than fat. As you age, muscle metabolism decreases. So even if you maintain the same level of exercise and calorie intake, you tend to accumulate fat. Regular exercise can help offset reduced muscle metabolism and help you stay lean. So will choosing nutrient-dense, lower-calorie foods.
Years of exposure to UV light and smoke may contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in older people. But an antioxidant-rich diet may help. Studies link reduced risk for AMD with higher intakes of vitamins C and E, beta carotene and zinc as well as lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants in yellow and green vegetables and egg yolks) and omega-3 fats.
Related Link: Recipes for better vision
Heart (and Blood Vessels)
Over the years, the heart and artery walls thicken and stiffen, which often results in high blood pressure and plaque buildup. Greek scientists recently reported that the more closely people followed a Mediterranean diet—rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, fish and poultry, dairy and olive oil, with moderate amounts of wine and little red meat—the less likely they were to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity.
Related Link: Get more heart-smart foods and recipes here
From age 30 on, cells that build bone become less active while those that dismantle bone keep working. (In women, decreasing estrogen during menopause accelerates this loss.) Bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin D—found in foods such as milk and yogurt—become increasingly important as you age. New research indicates that vitamin K—essential to the proteins that rebuild bone and abundant in leafy greens—also helps reduce age-related bone loss.
Would you change what you eat if you knew it could slow—or reverse—aging? Tell us what you think below.