8 Ways to Eat Your Way to Healthy Aging
By Barbra Cohn ~
It’s Healthy Aging Month and it’s a good time to ask yourself “what am I doing to stave off chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis and other age-related diseases? How can I age gracefully?”
1. Eating fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish can protect you against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Numerous studies have shown that elderly people who did not have dementia had high blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish, in comparison to those with dementia, who had on average 30% to 40% lower blood levels of DHA. Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.
2. Eat breakfast! It is the meal that you break your fast with. During the night our blood sugar levels drop, so it’s especially important to eat within one hour of arising and by 10am. Eating breakfast restores healthy blood sugar levels, but make sure your breakfast isn’t coffee and a doughnut. Have some protein and a healthy fat such as an omelet and avocado and a piece of whole grain or gluten-free toast. It’ll provide you with the energy you need to get through the morning while maintaining a sense of equilibrium. My favorite cool weather breakfast is eggs (any way you like them), a side of beans such as black or pinto, and a pile of sautéed greens. When the weather is hot, I prefer home-made granola made with oats, a bit of coconut oil and maple syrup, coconut flakes, and lots of nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds. Add chia seeds, flax meal, yogurt and fresh berries and you’ve got a breakfast for champions.
3. Avoid commercially processed meats and favor grass-fed meats, free-range chickens and eggs fed an organic, non-GMO diet. And limit your meat consumption to no more than twice a week.
4. Eat like a rabbit to reduce your risk of stroke, dementia, macular degeneration, and other chronic illness. Veggies are low in calories and high in fiber. Fruits are also high in fiber and like veggies, contain numerous vitamins and minerals. Just like people, fruits and vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And it’s the colors that identify many of the bioactive substances called phytonutrients that give us antioxidant protection and other special health benefits. The scientific community has produced a large body of research showing the potential of these super nutrients. Compared with people who eat few fruits and vegetables, populations that consume a large variety and generous amounts of plant foods enjoy longevity and reduced risk of disease. For example, the people of Okinawa have a long life expectancy, numerous centenarians, and a low-risk of age-associated diseases. Their diet is low in calories, fat, sugar, salt, and meat and dairy products. Instead, Okinawans eat fish, tofu, whole grains, and lots of fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, onions, green peppers, sea vegetables and sweet potatoes—which are all dense in phytonutrients and antioxidants. These islanders are known for a low-stress, carefree and relaxed attitude. Their rates of stroke, dementia, cancer and heart disease are also the lowest in the world. For every 100,000 people in Okinawa, 30 have passed their 100th birthday, one of the highest rates in the world.
5. Eliminate soft drinks; they increase your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. Instead, drink plenty of water to hydrate your brain and body.
6. A cup of Joe will do you good . . . just don’t overdo it and don’t add lots of cream of sugar. Researchers from the University of Scranton found that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet. Coffee has been shown to improve mental acuity. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (2012) found that people older than 65 who had higher blood levels of caffeine developed Alzheimer’s disease two to four years later than people with lower caffeine levels. The study included 124 people who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Typically, 15% of people with MCI will go on to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s disease each year. The study participants who had less than 1,200 ng/ml of caffeine levels in their blood developed Alzheimer’s disease. This is equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before their blood was taken. The people whose memory loss did not progress to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels of caffeine in their blood. Coffee appeared to be the only source of caffeine for the participants in the study. Some big caveats: if you have high blood pressure limit your coffee intake to 2 cups a day, and avoid drinking it before exercise or physical labor which both naturally raise blood pressure. Coffee acts as a diuretic, depleting the body of necessary fluids, so make sure you drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee you drink. Coffee can raise homocysteine levels, an indicator and risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It can also cause headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety and drowsiness if a coffee drinker forgoes his or her usual daily dose of caffeine. So be smart and listen to your body.
7. If you can’t drink coffee, consider green tea. Scientists have found evidence that green tea extract can help fight everything from glaucoma to prostate cancer and leukemia. Now, a research team composed of chemists, biochemists and biophysicists at the University of Michigan has found a new potential benefit of green tea extract: preventing the clumping of proteins associated amyloids in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. The study found that the specific molecule in green tea, ( — )-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, also known as EGCG, prevented aggregate formation and broke down existing aggregate structures in the proteins that contained the metals copper, iron and zinc. At Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, researchers tracked the green tea consumption of nearly 14,000 people over age 65 for three years. The participants’ quality of life (measured in day-to-day activities such as getting dressed, walking the dog, and performing household chores) was examined in relation to how much green tea they drank. The authors found that the more green tea participants consumed, the longer they were able to ward off the difficulties associated with old age. The people who drank at least five cups a day were one-third less likely to develop disabilities than those who had less than a cup per day. Those people who averaged three or four cups a day had a 25 percent lower risk. Just remember that while green tea and its extracts are considered safe in small amounts, they do contain caffeine and small amounts of vitamin K, which means it could interfere with drugs that prevent blood clotting. So the next time you feel the need for a cup of coffee or black tea, consider drinking a cup of green tea instead. It just might help you maintain clarity of mind, healthy bones, and cardiovascular health well into your senior years.
8. Herbs or adaptogens can be helpful for increasing energy without stimulation. An adaptogen is a natural substance—usually an herb—that helps the body adapt to stress by producing a calming effect on the whole physiology, and stress is often blamed with being the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. Phytosterols, the plant compounds in the herbs ashwaghanda, gotu kola, passion flower, schizandra, skullcap, rhodiola, and cordyceps have been scientifically shown to support the adrenal glands and healthy blood chemistry, and enhance the body’s ability to resist the ravages of stress. Valerian, Siberian ginseng, kava kava, oat straw, and hops also help reduce stress. These herbs can be taken as a tea or in the form of a nutritional supplement. Culinary herbs also have numerous health benefits. Turmeric, the spice used in Indian cooking, has dozens of studies backing up its ability to reduce inflammation, another major cause of chronic disease, and risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which is vital to healthy aging. Oregano contains antioxidants that offer antibacterial protection. Garlic has been called the natural antibiotic, and ginger root has been used for thousands of years for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. The list goes on and on.
Barbra Cohn is the author of “The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.” She is also on the editorial board of Care Connections, published by Boulder County Area Agency on Aging. Visit her blog at https://barbracohn.com.