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Foods for Long Life and Well-Being

The time to start eating them is now.
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If you've made it this far in life, chances are strong that you may live into your 80s or even 90s. But will you be living well?

"We probably can't extend life much beyond what we already have done," says William Hart, PhD, MPH, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at the St. Louis University Doisy School of Allied Health Professions. "But we can help make those last five to 10 years of life more enjoyable. Living longer isn't much fun if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it."

So what's the secret to staying healthy as you get older? Exercise, of course. Also, the right food. To get started, add these five nutrients to your diet.

Soy to Manage Your Cholesterol

"No, adding soy to your diet does not mean pouring more soy sauce on your Chinese food," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, LDN, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It does mean adding soy foods such as tofu, soy milk, soy nuts, or the green soybeans called edamame by the Japanese.

Soy has an impressive resume, along with some inevitable controversy. Adding soy to your diet has been shown to significantly lower cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. Plus, soy is high in iron, which many women need. Some women also say that soy helps them manage hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, although those benefits have not been proven by long-term clinical studies.

Still, its cholesterol-lowering benefits are powerful enough. Indeed, the right diet can lower cholesterol as much as medication, according to a study reported July 2003 in The Journal of the American Medical Association. That four-week study found that a diet of soy fiber, protein from oats and barley, almonds, and margarine from plant sterols lowered cholesterol as much as statins, the most widely prescribed cholesterol medicine. Soybeans themselves provide high-quality protein, are low in saturated fat, and contain no cholesterol, making them an ideal heart-healthy food. To lower your cholesterol, the American Heart Association suggests you look for products that provide 10 grams of soy protein per serving, and try to eat three or more servings per day.

Fiber for Your Whole Body

Once upon a time our diet was made up mostly of whole foods loaded with fiber. While we may have fallen to a wild beast or infection, fiber helped keep our cholesterol and blood sugar levels low, and kept our bowels functioning smoothly.

Now in our frenzied lifestyle, we're more likely to grab fast food, or use prepared foods at home that have only a passing acquaintance with dietary fiber. It's a little known fact: Most of us should double the amount of fiber we eat if we want to reap its benefits.

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