It’s no secret that as we age, our bodies begin to break down. Certain activities that we once enjoyed become too intense and some of our favorite foods might not agree with us very well anymore. Luckily, there are all kinds of changes you can make to slow that aging process.
Eating a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do to extend your life and stay as healthy and vital as possible.
Heart disease risk is one measure of health that spikes dramatically once men hit 45 and women reach 55. Therefore, the more cholesterol-lowering foods you can build into your diet, the better. Oats are great for this due to a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. Soluble fiber binds with cholesterol during digestion and allows it to pass out of your body, rather than stay behind in your arteries.
Aim for at least 3 grams of beta-glucan each day to reduce both total and LDL cholesterol levels by 5-10%. It’s worth it – people who eat a lot of oats have been found to have a lower risk of early death than people who don’t. Oats are a very affordable staple, so there’s no excuse not to pick up the habit!
A salty snack every now and again can be very hard to resist, but when it comes in the form of chips or crackers, you end up eating an insane amount of saturated fat and sodium. Try nuts instead. Studies have shown that eating an ounce of mixed nuts every day reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke by 28%.
It doesn’t have to be mixed nuts; any variety you like will do, including the much more affordable peanut. You can eat your nuts in a handful or chop and toast them as an excellent crunchy topping for salads, roasted vegetables, or casseroles.
Good old apples are a fantastic dietary staple for lots of reasons. Apples lower the risk of diabetes by helping to regulate blood sugar levels. They contain an average of 5 grams of fiber, which can lower cholesterol. And apples also contain a substance called quercetin which is known to lower blood pressure.
They are also a reliable source of vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. However, apples do appear on the Dirty Dozen list for pesticide residue, so organic is best if you can afford it.
We’ve spoken a lot about foods that improve your cardiovascular and metabolic health, but what about your brainpower? That’s where leafy greens come in. Recent research has determined that people who eat a lot of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collards compare in cognitive ability to people 11 years younger who rarely eat these foods.
One caveat is that leafy greens do not mix terribly well with the blood thinner Coumadin, so speak to your doctor about the right portion size if you take this medication.
So we’ve got your brain and internal systems humming along now; how about your muscle tone? The answer for that is to get enough protein, and yogurt (especially Greek varieties) can be a great source. Lean body mass tends to decline in later years, and studies show that spreading daily protein intake throughout the day can slow this process.
As a bonus, yogurt contains a lot of calcium, critical to preserving bone density as we age. Women over 50 and men over 70 should pay special attention to their calcium intake.
Another fantastic brain booster includes berries of all kinds. This variety of fruit is high in certain phytochemicals that are thought to increase blood flow to the brain while reducing inflammation at the same time.
The result is slower age-related memory decline and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Berries are also great in general due to their high fiber content and range of vitamins and minerals. If you can’t get your hands on fresh berries year-round, frozen can be just as good.
As we approach middle age, the risk for problems like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol goes up. Adding beans to your daily diet is a fantastic way to knock that risk back down. Just ¾ cup of beans or lentils each day reduces your bad cholesterol (LDL) by up to 5%. Beans can also improve blood sugar levels in people who already have diabetes.
There is an amazing range of beans and lentils, so you should be able to find a variety or two that you really like. One thing to remember is that if you choose canned beans, it’s best to give them a rinse before eating because canned foods are really high in sodium.
Avocado is costly and has been blamed lately as the reason millennials aren’t able to afford homes (that’s not it). But they are also a very tasty source of nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, copper, and vitamins B, C, E, and K.
Eating avocado regularly ensures that you get enough heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and maintain optimal blood pressure.
Since we’re talking about superfoods, let’s look at carrots. Here’s a vegetable that can benefit every part of your body, especially eyes, mouth, skin, and heart. Carrots lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, boost your immune system, support digestion, and lower the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The reason carrots are so good for you is their unique nutritional profile, which includes fiber, vitamins A, B8, C, E, and K, minerals such as iron, potassium, copper, and manganese, and several types of antioxidant, including beta carotene.
10. Dark Chocolate
Who wants dessert? Far from telling you that you must abstain from all sweet stuff, we are going to encourage you to eat more dark chocolate. Somewhere in the range of 30-60 grams per day can actually lower cholesterol and blood pressure, improve brain acuity, and protect your skin from sun damage (but keep using your sunscreen).
It’s best to choose chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa in order to get the most beneficial stuff and the least sugar. Do that and you’ll get a nice daily dose of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and selenium. And because eating chocolate feels good, it releases mood-lightening endorphins.
Are you hungry yet? Many of the foods on our list go beautifully together for a meal you can really feel good about eating. Yogurt or oatmeal with some berries mixed in is a powerhouse breakfast. For lunch, try a salad of leafy greens, carrots, avocado, and toasted nuts. At dinner, have some beans and brown rice with a nice piece of dark chocolate for dessert.
Feel free to mix and match these 11 superfoods with other sources of lean protein, whole grains, and dairy to design a balanced diet that will keep you feeling and looking young for your whole life.