Superfoods Part 7: The Best Anti-Aging Superfoods
Staying young isn’t just about the way you look or the way you act — it’s also about protecting your health. The older we get, the more damage builds up in our tissues and the more likely we are to be diagnosed with chronic health conditions.
Of course, there’s no way to permanently halt the aging process. However, eating right and taking care of yourself can help minimize age-related damage and keep you feeling as good as you can throughout many decades of life.
(I encourage you to read my entire series on superfoods to learn about what is so super about superfoods as well as about superfoods for weight loss, heart health, diabetes and pre-diabetes, radiant skin and gut health.)
Aging and Your Health
Every part of your body goes through age-related changes. Your skin loses its elasticity, your muscles become weaker, and your bones lose strength.
Additionally, the older you get, the higher your risk for health conditions such as:
Adopting healthy habits, including eating more nutritious foods, may help slow down these changes and keep you as healthy as possible as you age.
What Causes Aging?
Experts are still learning about the many factors that bring about aging. However, they have identified a few possible causes, which may be affected by lifestyle habits such as diet.
Some genes help control aging. These genes may be turned on or off or develop mutations that lead to age-related changes within cells.
Aging is also linked to damage. Small molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) can form within cells. ROS damage DNA and cells, causing a cell to age. On the other hand, antioxidants are substances that get rid of ROS, helping prevent and heal damage. Some unhealthy foods can lead to higher levels of ROS, while other foods can act as antioxidants, keeping your cells young.
Inflammation is another factor that leads to aging. A little bit of inflammation is necessary to help the immune system fight off germs or toxins. But chronic (ongoing) inflammation can accelerate the aging process and lead to age-related health problems. Different foods can help raise or lower the amount of inflammation in the body.
Superfood Solutions to Stop Aging
Eating a variety of foods from each food group is enough to help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. However, if you’re worried about aging, you may want to eat extra superfoods that can help your cells stay healthy.
There’s no one definition of a “superfood,” but the label tends to be given to foods or drinks that offer higher levels of health-boosting nutrients. Superfoods also frequently contain helpful molecules like antioxidants, which protect cells from free radicals and help heal the damage that builds up with age. Additionally, many superfoods have been shown to help reduce the risk of developing different chronic diseases.
Adding more of these foods to your diet may help you keep your body healthy and make you look and feel as young as possible as you age!
Blueberries are a powerful superfood that can help keep you healthy into your later years. These fruits contain antioxidants and other anti-aging molecules.
Blueberries also contain molecules called anthocyanins that help protect against disorders like diabetes and heart disease. They may even help protect against early death.
Different kinds of nuts — including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts — provide healthy fats and protein and help protect against inflammation. Another big benefit of eating nuts is their ability to help prevent age-related health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Nuts may even help you live longer. One study found:
- People who ate nuts once per week were 89% less likely to have an early death.
- Those who ate nuts two to four times a week were 87% less likely to die early.
- Eating nuts five or six times per week led to an 85% reduced risk of early death.
- People who had nuts at least seven times a week were 80% less likely to die early.
Pomegranates are a fantastic superfood that contain several anti-aging molecules.
Several substances found in pomegranates can help protect cartilage from being degraded. This may help keep joints healthy and protect against arthritis.
These fruits also contain molecules called ellagitannin and ellagic acid. When you eat pomegranate, the good bacteria in your gut transform these chemicals into urolithin A (UA). UA reduces inflammation and gives a boost to the mitochondria (small structures that make energy for your cells).
UA can also protect against age-related problems that appear in your muscles, joints, brain, and other tissues. In some laboratory studies, UA also helped animals live longer, although this has not yet been tested in humans.
Eating more tomatoes may be an easy way to keep your skin healthy as you age. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a red pigment that also acts as an antioxidant. Pro tip: your body can absorb lycopene from tomato paste more easily than it can from fresh tomatoes.
Researchers have found that lycopene is present in your skin cells and in the oil that your skin produces, although levels decrease with age. Fortunately, eating more lycopene can increase how much of this molecule is present in your skin, bringing lycopene levels up to those seen in young adults. Studies have also found that eating more tomato paste protects the skin from sun damage.
Tomatoes may provide other benefits as well. Some research shows that eating more tomatoes can help reduce your chances of being diagnosed with serious conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Salmon, as well as other fatty fish like trout, mackerel, sardines, and tuna, is a great source of vitamin D, protein, and healthy fats, making it an important superfood.
Levels of vitamin D in the body tend to drop with age. This is bad news for your bones, since vitamin D is needed to keep them strong and healthy. Low vitamin D levels mean an increased risk of weak or broken bones. Not getting enough of this vitamin also puts you at risk for certain age-linked diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and cancer. Making sure you have enough of this vitamin as you age is essential.
Healthy protein sources also become increasingly important as you age. The older you get, the more muscle mass you lose. Eating higher levels of protein can help combat this and keep the muscles healthy.
The omega-3 fats found in salmon and other fish also help with healthy aging. They can reduce inflammation and protect brain health, helping prevent age-related declines in thinking and memory abilities.
Milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt provide several important nutrients. Like fatty fish, milk is a good source of protein. In the United States, milk is also usually fortified with extra vitamin D, making it another good source of this vitamin.
Dairy foods also contain a lot of calcium, a mineral that is important for bone health. Low calcium levels can eventually lead to osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become weak. Older adults may also be at risk for this condition because some medications may prevent the body from absorbing as much calcium as it normally would. Getting enough calcium from your diet is important at every age and can help prevent future bone problems.
People who want to age well should look to whole grains. Try switching out white bread for whole wheat bread, refined pasta for wheat pasta, and white rice for brown rice. You can also eat more grains like quinoa, oats, or popcorn.
Research shows that middle-aged adults who eat more whole grains are more likely to have better physical and mental health, and are less likely to have chronic illnesses.
Laboratory studies have found that curcumin can help worms, flies, and mice live longer. It’s not yet clear whether turmeric can affect lifespan in humans, but researchers have identified several ways in which this spice can affect aging.
Curcumin can boost the body’s own natural antioxidants. It can also turn off several genes linked to aging. Finally, it can lessen symptoms of certain health conditions linked to aging and inflammation, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
While it may not be a “superfood” in the usual sense, water is an important nutrient that is vital for aging well. Your skin loses moisture as you get older, which makes it age. Staying hydrated is important for keeping all of your tissues healthy.
Your sense of thirst may also decrease as you get older, making it harder to remember to drink enough fluids. Additionally, staying hydrated is important when taking certain medications for chronic health conditions.
Make a plan to drink a certain number of glasses of water each day. Plan when you’re going to have drinks — don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Try having a full glass of water with every meal, and while taking any medication. If drinking enough water is difficult, you can also drink some low-fat or nonfat milk, or juice without added sugar or salt.
Diet Plans for Healthy Aging
While eating superfoods can help protect against illness, following a healthy eating plan may provide even better results. Researchers have developed certain diets that reduce a person’s chances of developing conditions that may come on with age.
One of the best-studied diets is the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes plant-based meals with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, and seafood. This diet can lower the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain types of cancer. In one study, people who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely were 26% less likely to have an early death from heart problems.
A related diet, called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and boost heart health.
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines elements from both eating plans above. The MIND diet encourages people to eat leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts, beans, and wine. It can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Other Tips for Aging Well
Many different lifestyle factors affect how we age. If you want to maintain health into your later years, you may also want to consider making other changes.
Getting Enough Physical Activity As You Age
Nearly one in three adults over the age of 50 are physically inactive. Additionally, people with chronic health conditions are more likely to report that they don’t get as much exercise. However, physical activity is very important — it can help prevent or treat many different disorders and reduce a person’s chances of an early death.
Experts make the following physical activity recommendations for older adults:
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week (for example, take five 30-minute brisk walks per week)
- Spend two days each week doing strength training or other activities that help build muscle
- Regularly perform exercises that help improve balance, such as standing on one foot
If you can’t reach all of the above goals, remember that doing something is better than nothing. The more time you spend moving and the less time you spend sitting, the better! Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan to make sure that you are being active in a way that is healthy for you.
Limiting Alcohol and Tobacco
Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can speed up the aging process. They can both negatively impact the skin and lead to more wrinkles. Alcohol and tobacco can also increase a person's chances of being diagnosed with cancer and other serious conditions.
One study also found that people who didn’t drink heavily or smoke, and adopted other healthy habits like eating healthy and getting exercise, were 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Maintaining Mental Health
People of all ages can struggle with maintaining good mental health. However, problems like depression or anxiety can have a bigger impact on physical health for older adults. Poor mental health can make it harder for people to seek treatment for other conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
If you notice changes in your mood or emotions, talk to your doctor. Therapy or medication often helps improve your mental health, which can in turn have a positive impact on your physical health.
Your diet increasingly impacts your health as you age. The more you add superfoods and other nutritious foods to your diet, the more you can protect your skin and other organs from age-related damage and decrease your risk of chronic health disorders.