From your head to your toes and in between, here’s what to eat to help ward off aging—starting in your 20s and into your 50s, 60s and beyond.
From our mid-20s 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. The good news: a healthy diet, especially one packed with produce, can help. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean diet experienced slower age-related cognitive declines.
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.
In our 20s, production of collagen (a fiber that keeps skin firm) slows and dead skin cells 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.
After age 50, we lose muscle mass at a rate of 1 to 2 percent each year. As you age, muscle metabolism decreases. So even if you maintain the same level of exercise and calorie intake, you tend to accumulate fat. In fact, between ages 30 and 60, the average person gains a pound of fat and loses a half-pound of muscle annually. 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 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 with reduced risk for AMD.
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. In early 2013, Spanish scientists reported that by following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts, study participants significantly reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease.
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, which enhances calcium absorption, 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.
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