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Aging Well: Eating Right for Longevity

Is your diet the key to longevity? Find out why eating right just may mean aging right, too.
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WebMD Feature

Aging: everyone does it, yet some people seem relatively unaffected by getting older. Could good nutrition be the key to a healthier, longer life?

Does Aging Equal Illness?

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"Aging is often associated with the development of one or more chronic diseases, but it doesn't have to be that way," says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

It's not always just a matter of time before you have a heart attack or stroke, get type 2 diabetes or cancer, break a hip because of osteoporosis, or develop Alzheimer's, even though these conditions are often associated with aging, Blumberg says.

Your risk for disease and disability increases with inadequate physical activity, genetic susceptibility, and poor diet.

Aging: Defy It With Diet

So what's the best eating plan for preventing, delay, or minimizing the conditions associated with aging, including inflamed joints, flagging memory, and failing eyesight?

"The most beneficial diets rely heavily on fresh vegetables, fruits, and legumes -- foods that are naturally lower in calories and packed with nutrients," says Bradley Willcox, MD, MPH, co-author of The Okinawa Diet Plan and professor of geriatrics at the University of Hawaii.

Experts suspect the antioxidant compounds found in produce, legumes, and whole grains are largely responsible for holding back the march of time.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and other compounds, including polyphenols and anthocyanins, battle free radicals -- unstable forms of oxygen that damage cell function. Free radicals form from normal metabolism. Your body also produces them in response to strong ultraviolet rays from the sun; air pollution; smoking; and secondhand smoke.

The buildup of free radicals contributes to the aging process and to the development of a number of age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis. What's worse, aging increases free radical production. That means your diet should be healthier than ever with the passage of time.

The question, of course, is how do we do that?

 

Anti-Aging Nutrition

Antioxidants generate a lot of buzz when it comes to longevity, but aging well takes more. You must optimize a myriad of beneficial nutrients, including protein, calcium, and vitamin D, and minimize detrimental dietary components including saturated and trans fats.

While none of these foods is the "Fountain of Youth," including them on a regular basis as part of a balanced diet can reduce the toll time takes on your body.

Nuts

Nuts are cholesterol-free protein sources, and are worthy substitutes for fatty meats. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in a group of nearly 35,000 women, those who ate foods rich in vitamin E, including nuts, lowered their risk of having a stroke.

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