Turning Back the Clock…with Food
Would you like to slow down or reverse the process of aging? With age we lose our ability to think, learn and remember as well as we did in our younger years. Our balance and co-ordination suffers due to changes in our capacity to use and control our muscles and our movements. Is food the answer? Can you turn back the clock, by changing your diet? James Joseph, a researcher from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston, says “while we still don’t know if it’s possible to actually reverse the aging process in humans, research does show that what we eat can impact the rate at which we age and our quality of life along the way.” More specifically, research has found that by optimizing the health of the brain, we can help put the brakes on aging.
Colourful Foods Protect Your Brain
Think of your brain as a potential war zone that is particularly vulnerable to injury and with time becomes less able to shield itself from harm. Repeated damage is caused by nasty molecules called free radicals which are created in our bodies as a normal part of daily living when our bodies use oxygen. Injury to the brain is also caused by inflammation, which has been found to increase in the brain as we get older. So, how do we fight the battle and win the war? Colourful, antioxidant-rich foods appear to be worthy warriors, especially when consumed over the lifespan. In addition to protecting cells in the brain from damage caused by free radicals and inflammation, they have been found to increase the growth of new brain cells and enhance the ability of brain cells to “talk to each other” or communicate. In animal studies foods like berries, spinach, and grape juice have been shown to slow or reverse age-related changes in cognition (the ability to think and remember) and motor function (balance and co-ordination). In an ongoing, Canadian study looking at the link between nutrition and healthy aging and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, it’s apparent that people who eat the most antioxidant-rich foods – such as blueberries, brussels sprouts and red kidney beans – also have the highest levels of antioxidants in their blood, which in turn may give them the ammunition they need to fight the ravages of aging. What foods should you put on your plate? Load up on colourful fruits and vegetables – aim for the recommended 7 to 10 servings daily. Try to make berries and dark leafy greens, such as spinach, a daily part of your diet. All berries are good, but blueberries are especially good. Drink purple beverages like grape juice, pomegranate juice or red wine in moderation. Spice up your diet. Herbs and spices – especially ones like cloves, cinnamon, oregano and turmeric – are antioxidant all-stars. Nuts, like pecans and walnuts, also rank well. Whole grains and beans – especially black beans and red kidney beans – can up your intake of antioxidants even further.
Put Fish on the Menu
Fish is called “brain food” for good reason. Omega-3 fats, found in higher fat fish like salmon, get incorporated directly into the cell walls of your brain. These fats are concentrated in the brain right where brain cells communicate with each other. They keep cell walls elastic and fluid so that signals can efficiently pass from one cell to the next. They also protect brain cells from damage caused by inflammation and free radicals. In the Framingham Heart Study involving 900 men and women, those who consumed an average of three servings of fatty fish a week were about half as likely to develop all types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In a study from Norway, researchers found that elderly men and women who more frequently ate fish scored better on memory, visual conception, spatial motor skills, attention, orientation, and verbal fluency tests. Lastly, in a large study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, men and women who put fish on the menu at least once a week had a significantly slower decline in cognitive function – a difference that gave them the memory and thinking ability of a person three years younger. Bottom line, be good to your brain and put higher fat fish like salmon, rainbow trout, mackerel, herring or sardines on your menu at least twice a week. If you don’t eat fish, consider a daily fish oil capsule as an alternative. Also note that unhealthy fats, like trans fats and saturated fats, are the kinds of fat your brain doesn’t like.
Take a Multi & Watch Your Waistline
How else can you promote healthy aging? Take a multivitamin to optimize your overall nutritional intake, including your intake of folic acid – a B vitamin also shown to preserve memory and thinking skills. Maintain a healthy body weight and healthy blood pressure – both help keep aging at bay. Finally, don’t forget to stimulate your mind mentally and exercise regularly. Here’s to healthy living, a healthy brain and most importantly… a very, long and healthy life.