5 Age-Proof Diet Tips to Add Years to Your Life and Life to Your Years

Elizabeth Somer, RD11/22/16

Want to live vibrantly in your later years? Want to look younger, feel great and think clearly today and throughout life? Well, the news is good. There's every reason to believe we can push the aging envelop by decades and look, think and feel great in the process.

Most of the disease and dysfunction associated with aging are now recognized to be a result of lifestyle. (40,44) In short, it is not years alone that cause deterioration, but how we choose to live them. We can maximize our healthy middle years and postpone or even avoid the feeble elderly years if we're willing to make changes in what we eat and how we supplement and live. (1,11,14,15,24)

Aging is a continuum, not a sudden event. You don't wake up one morning to discover you're old. The same nutrition issues related to seniors, from heart disease to aging skin, have their beginnings in the middle years. Those diet-related health issues only magnify with the years. Vitamins D and B12 are examples of how the body’s need for nutrients increases as we get older. Your body manufactures vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but gradually loses this ability with age. (51,52) That means, dietary and supplemental sources of vitamin D become increasingly more important with each passing decade. (2) In addition, the need for vitamin B12 becomes increasingly more important as we age, yet many seniors are low in this vitamin. (23,33). Other examples of nutrients needed in greater amounts for health in later years include calcium and vitamin B6. (50,53)

The sooner you start age-proofing your diet, the better. But, it is never too late. The plan is simple if you follow five simple tips:

Age-Proof Tip #1: Load the plate with produce

The most important diet habit you can adopt to slow, stop, even reverse the aging process is to increase your intake of antioxidant- and fiber-rich foods, especially colorful fruits and vegetables. (5,6,10,34,37) One of the underlying causes of all age-related diseases, from heart disease to cataracts, and wrinkling, is oxygen fragments called oxidants or free radicals. Left unchecked, these oxidants damage cells and tissues, with the damage escalating as we get older. (49) Fortunately, the body has an anti-free radical system called the antioxidants, which deactivates and rids the body of damaging oxidants. (45,46)

Many of those antioxidants come from our diets. For example, vitamin C contributes to normal collagen, the underlying supporting structure of skin. Sun exposure also depletes vitamin E from the skin, while boosting intake of this antioxidant contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress. (38) Science shows that vitamin E may also slow the aging of skin cells by reducing the production of an enzyme called collagenase that otherwise breaks down collagen, causing the skin to sag and wrinkle. (47)

Increase your antioxidant arsenal by adding deep-colored produce to your diet. Dark green leafy vegetables are especially rich in antioxidants and are a good source of folate and vitamin K, a nutrient that helps to support brain health. (30) With a produce-packed diet you also will look and feel younger and have an easier time managing your waistline! (48,54)

Age-Proof Tip #2: Focus on healthy fats

Some fats, such as saturated and trans fats, seem to speed the aging process. These foods should be reduced, such as red meat, fatty dairy products and anything made with hydrogenated vegetables oils. (3,13,22,35) Then replace those fats with healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats in extra-virgin olive oil and the omega-3 fats in fish. The omega-3 fat DHA is of particular importance to heart health and the maintenance of normal vision. (12,16)  It also might help keep you mentally sharp. (27,28,29,32,33)  Include two or more servings weekly of fatty fish, such as salmon, in your diet or take a DHA supplement. 

Age-Proof Tip #3: Stay lean with real food

Getting rid of the love handles is right up there with quitting smoking as a top way to stretch the healthy middle years into your 70s and beyond. Weight loss is do-able if you follow one simple rule: cut back on processed and fast foods and focus on real food. Processed foods not only pack on the pounds, but escalate the aging process. On the other hand, you reduce calories when you base your diet on foods in their original form, such as oatmeal not granola bars, potatoes not French fries, 100 percent whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and corn-on-the-cob not corn chips. (7,8,36,39,42,43)

Age-Proof Tip #4: Supplement right

Always turn to food first to meet your nutritional needs. But, on the days when you don’t eat perfectly, it makes sense to fill in the nutritional gaps with a supplement or two. (21,41) The trick is picking the right one. When it comes to quality, consider the following:

Step 1: Select a broad-range multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. Look for one that contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of the B vitamins (vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin and folic acid), and the trace minerals (chromium, copper, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc).

Step 2: Read the column titled "Daily Value" on the label. Look for a multiple-vitamin that provides approximately 100 percent, but no more than 300 percent of the Daily Value for all nutrients provided. You want a "balanced" supplement, not one that supplies 2 percent of one nutrient, 50 percent of another, and 600 percent of another. An exception to this rule is vitamin D, which can be taken in larger amounts than the Daily Value.

Step 3: In the U.S., look for the USP seal. United States Pharmacopeia or USP is a non-governmental standard-setting body. This seal of quality means the supplement should dissolve within the digestive tract, is made from pure ingredients, and contains the amount of nutrients listed on the label. 

Step 4: Supplement your supplement. No one-pill-a-day multiple-vitamin has enough calcium and magnesium. Other supplements to consider include lutein and zeaxanthin for vision and the omega-3 DHA for your heart, vision and mind. (17,18,19,20)

Age-Proof Tip #5: Move!

There is no getting around it - you must exercise. You need daily aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or biking) to burn fat and keep your heart and mind in good shape and at least twice-weekly strengthening activities (weight lifting) to maintain muscles, even if it is just lifting milk jugs in the kitchen. (4,9,25,26,31)

The best news is that you are one big package. The diet advice to protect your heart will also support brain health and help maintain a glowing complexion. Eat well!

References

1. Jacob M, Yee L, Diehr P, et al: Can a healthy lifestyle compress the disabled period in older adults? Journal of the American Geriatric Society 2016;64:1952-1961.

2. Schleicher R, Sternberg M, Lacher D, et al: The vitamin D status of the US population from 1988-2010 using standardized serum concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D shows recent modest increases. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016;July 6th.

3. Song M, Fung T, Hu F, et al: Association of animal and plant protein intake with all-cause and cause-specific mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine 2016; August 1st.

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