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50+: Live Better, Longer

Eating for Longevity

Foods to keep your heart, brain, and bones healthy.
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Foods for a Healthy Heart continued...

Nuts: For too long, nuts were banished from the list of healthy foods because they’re high in fat. They are. But the fat they contain is mostly unsaturated, which protects against heart disease.

Dark chocolate:  Researchers now think that high blood pressure and heart disease are exceedingly rare among residents of the San Blas islands because they eat chocolate, and lots of it. Components in dark chocolate called polyphenols are believed to lower blood pressure and improve the flexibility of blood vessels. In a 2008 study, researchers at the University of Aquila gave volunteers with hypertension 100 grams of dark chocolate daily. After 15 days, their blood pressure readings were significantly lower and their insulin sensitivity had improved.

Foods for a Vital Brain

The basic advice is simple: What’s good for your heart and blood vessels is also good for your brain. That means eating a diet centered on fruits and vegetables with plenty of unsaturated oils, such as olive oil, and plenty of whole grains. Foods that may add extra protection include:

Blueberries and other antioxidant-rich fruits: Ongoing research at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University suggests that foods especially high in antioxidants, including blueberries, grape juice, and walnuts, protect against age-related changes in the brain that lead to memory loss and even dementia.

Fish: High in omega-3 fats, fish and shellfish have been shown to protect against irregular heart rhythms than can lead to heart failure. New evidence suggests that in addition to heart protection, the fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, found in fish oil (and ALA found in flaxseed) may offer a defense against depression and age-related memory loss.

Low-salt foods: Researchers have known for years that less salt in the diet means lower blood pressure. Now new evidence suggests that keeping blood pressure down may also protect brain cells and decrease the risk of age-related memory loss and even dementia.

“High blood pressure can damage the vasculature that supplies the brain with oxygen and nutrients,” explains Tufts University neuroscientist Aron Troen, PhD. That may explain why people with chronic hypertension seem to be at higher risk of developing age-related cognitive impairments.

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