Famed actress and octogenarian Bette Davis said getting older isn’t for sissies. Those of us over 50 know that, while the second half of our lives can be a time of emotional stability, mental acuity, wisdom, and power, the physical fact of aging is undeniable. And the risk of age-related disease increases with each passing year.
There’s not much you can do to stop the inexorable march of time; but you can protect your health, and age more gracefully, with the following foods:
1. Flax seeds are high in lignans, especially important for women; lignans help protect the body from xenoestrogens–toxic compounds found in plastics, hormones in meat and dairy, and pesticides, that mimic natural estrogen and can increase the risk of breast and hormonal cancers. Lignans also protect against other cancers, including colon cancer.
2. Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and arugula contain di-indolylmethane (DIM), a compound that protects against breast and hormone-related cancers.
3. Kale and other leafy greens are high in folic acid, a type of B vitamin that protects against cervical cancer and cervical dysplasia. Kale is also a member of the crucifer family, so it offers added protection against breast cancer.
4. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants that protect against Alzheimer’s, which strikes one in every six women, as well as age-related changes in brain and motor function. They also have powerful anti-inflammatory actions to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, cranberries, and prunes are other great sources of polyphenols.
5. Wild Alaskan salmon is high in omega-3 fats to help prevent mood swings and depression, especially common in menopause. Salmon also has high levels of astaxanthin and zeaxantin, hard-to-get antioxidants that protect the eyes from age-related damage. Sardines are another good source of omega-3 fats.
6. Green tea is rich in antioxidants that protect against breast cancer and help kill existing cancer cells. It’s also protective against skin cancer and may reverse the effects of sun damage, and seems to work by repairing the cell’s DNA.
7. Olives are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, one of the few fats that lower “bad” cholesterol and help prevent inflammation. Additionally, olives and olive oil contain antioxidant compounds that also have heart-protective, anti-inflammatory effects. Other foods high in monounsaturated fats include almonds, avocados, and peanuts.
8. Turmeric slows and may prevent the development of rheumatoid arthritis, which seems to affect women more often and more severely. Curcumin, the active component in turmeric, also shores up the immune system to protect the body from infection.
9. Beans are rich in soluble fiber, to reduce cholesterol, protect the heart, and possibly reduce the risk of colon cancer. Because they’re high in protein, they’re a good vegetarian substitute for meat–important, because high intake of red meat may increase risk a woman’s risk of colon cancer.
10. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a relatively hard-to-get antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart attack, breast cancer and cervical cancers. Some studies also suggest that cooking and oil make it easier for the body to absorb lycopene, so eat tomatoes in sauces and soups with olive oil for maximum effectiveness.
11. Spinach is one of the best food sources of leutin, a carotenoid that protects the eyes from macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness as we age. Spinach is also rich in vitamin K, which is crucial in bone health and protects the health of the arteries.
(Leesa recommends all produce be organic and turmeric from www.organicindia.com.)
By Lisa Turner
Lisa Turner is a food writer, intuitive eating coach, and nutrition consultant in Boulder, Colorado. In her consulting practice Lisa combines her training and degrees in nutrition, mind-body practices and Food Psychology, to help clients explore both what to eat and why they eat. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, visit InspiredEating.com. Lisa is also the developer of The Healthy Gourmet iPhone recipe app; for more information, visit TheHealthyGourmet.net.