Let’s face it—it would be kind of awesome to have super powers. And, although I can’t guarantee X-ray vision or the ability to fly, as a registered dietitian and the associate nutrition editor for EatingWell Magazine I can tell you that there’s some research out there showing that the food you eat can boost your run-of-the-mill abilities, giving an extra edge to your hearing, sight, mind and body (if not exactly enabling you to leap tall buildings in a single bound).
Super Power: Hear Better
Foods That Can Help: Spinach and Walnuts
What did you say? If you find yourself asking that question too often, could be you’re not getting enough of two crucial nutrients: folate and omega-3 fatty acids.
Folate (a B vitamin found in leafy greens, fortified cereals and beans) and omega-3s (the healthy fats found in walnuts, fish and flaxseed) both ward off hearing loss. New findings published in the Journal of Nutrition suggest that low levels of the B vitamin folate are linked to a 35 percent higher risk of hearing loss in people 50 and over (nonpregnant women need 400 micrograms a day). That may be because folate deficiency causes homocysteine levels to rise (a known risk factor for heart disease), which in turn could restrict blood flow to the cochlea—the part of the ear that turns sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain.
On the omega-3 front, researchers found that participants who ate two or more servings of fish a week were less likely to develop age-related hearing loss compared to people who had less than a serving a week. Plus, among participants who already had some hearing loss, those who ate more fish saw its progression slow. Researchers think that the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3s in fish help to lower a person’s vascular risk factors—such as high blood pressure—which, in turn, could help to protect against hearing loss.
Super Power: See Better
Foods That Can Help: Broccoli, Almonds and Eggs
As we (and our eyes) get older, we become susceptible to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over 50. Studies show that vitamins C (in citrus, red peppers and dark leafy greens) and E (in nuts and vegetable oils) and zinc (in whole grains, beef and shellfish), as well as lutein and zeaxanthin (two antioxidants found in yellow and leafy green vegetables and in egg yolks), may help protect against and/or slow the progression of this condition. Not only that, one Australian study linked a high intake of vegetables—any kind—with a lower risk for AMD. While these findings are still young, they give another reason to load your plate with nutrient-packed foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole eggs (one egg a day can fit into a heart-healthy diet).
Super Power: Get Smarter
Foods That Can Help: Sardines, Tuna and Salmon
Fatty fish, such as sardines, tuna and salmon, are a rich source of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid. Research suggests that boosting intake of DHA to about 200 mg per day—about three times what the average American gets now—may have some mental benefits. Do this by eating fatty fish twice a week (and you’ll be boosting your hearing too!). Foods fortified with DHA (e.g., some yogurts) are also an option.
Super Power: Run Faster
Foods That Can Help: Cherries
Super-sleek new sneakers could also work, but if you’re looking to strengthen your running through food, try quercetin. A phytochemical that’s found in foods like cherries, apples, onions, broccoli and grapes, quercetin may boost your exercise endurance. One research study showed that bikers who took quercetin in supplement form were able to bike longer than those who didn’t. The reasoning behind it? Researchers think the quercetin makes oxygen more available to the lungs.
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