Food does much more than satisfy your taste buds and silence your growling belly — the right eats can help you look great, feel fantastic, and stay sexy for decades to come. Eat to stay young by following these five commandments of long-lasting health and beauty.
Age-Erasing Law No. 1 Shop For Color
Antioxidants are those chemicals in foods that give tomatoes their bright red sheen, broccoli that lush green color, blueberries their range of blues, and eggplant its deep purple skin. More important, they're the compounds that keep lines from creeping onto your face and cholesterol from clogging your arteries. And they take the prize when it comes to stiff-arming the aging process. These nutritional superheroes neutralize cell-damaging free radicals, which have been linked to everything from wrinkles and age spots to cancer and heart disease. "In addition to staving off the visible signs of getting older, antioxidants can go as far as to actually reverse age-related cell damage," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R. D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. What's more, research also points to a compelling connection between eating foods that are loaded with antioxidants and living a longer, healthier life.
Because different antioxidants tackle different aging concerns, your best bet is to get a variety of them. The easiest way to accomplish that is to eat fruits and vegetables of many colors, as each hue signifies a separate health benefit. For example, the antioxidants in berries help maintain cognitive and motor functioning, those found in pomegranates have been found to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and broccoli and brussels sprouts contain compounds that help prevent breast cancer.
Monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, fish, nuts, and seeds have been shown to lower the risk of a host of age-related diseases: arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and even Alzheimer's. So if you still have an aversion to the 'F' word, it's time to get over it. Your appearance will benefit, too: The more omega-3's (mostly found in fatty fish like wild salmon) you consume, the more you reduce your risk of age-related skin damage.
Drink one glass of red vino (preferably with a meal, so your body absorbs it more slowly) four to five days a week. The habit has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses. Part of the credit goes to the alcohol, which helps soothe inflamed arteries, but red wine — especially pinot noir — is also full of flavonoids, another class of powerful antioxidants that come from the skin of red grapes. Not a big wine fan? Pour yourself a glass of Concord grape juice.
Age-Erasing Law No. 4 Drink Green Tea
Packed with potent antioxidants called catechins, green tea may be the single best age-defying substance you can put in your mug. Sipping just one cup a day will decrease your chances of developing high blood pressure by 46 percent; drink more and you'll reduce your risk by 65 percent. What's the best of the best? A study in the Journal of Food Science discovered that of the 77 U. S. brands tested, Stash Darjeeling organic green tea is the winner, delivering 100 catechins per gram.
Age-Erasing Law No. 5 Eat Less
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have discovered that women who stayed closest throughout adulthood to what they weighed at 18 had a 66 percent lower risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and gallstones than women who had put on 11 to 22 pounds by middle age.
Unfortunately, as you age it gets harder to keep those extra pounds off. "If you keep the physical activity and the food the same, you will put on a pound or two per year," says Walter Willett, Ph. D., chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the lead researchers of the study. Despite your best efforts, a hormone that helps maintain muscle mass is depleted as you get older; that's why the scale still creeps up, even when you do the same kick-ass workout you were doing five years ago.
The other half of the equation is to put less on your plate: Studies have shown that rats following a calorie-restricted diet live 30 percent longer than rats that eat normally. Reducing the amount you eat may help you live longer and prevent the problems related to extra weight — heart disease, high blood pressure, physical limitations — that are also associated with getting older. Low-cal living also keeps you away from the dangers of yo-yo dieting, especially the skin stretching that can make you look years older (think jowls — definitely not cute). Of course, noshing on less doesn't mean depriving yourself of delicious foods. So eat right and stay young!
Adapted from Age Erasers for Women, Rodale, 2009. Available at womenshealthmag.com/ageerasers.