You’ve read plenty about anti-aging. But none of us can halt the inevitable passage of time—so a better term might be healthy aging. What that means: keeping the muscles and organs fit and functioning, the bones strong, the skin supple, and the brain sharp over time, while protecting against age-related disease and extending the number of years we live.
The process of aging involves multiple and complex factors—and while research into the most important influences continues, studies agree on one thing: diet plays a critical role in fighting free-radical damage, minimizing inflammation, and supporting healthy aging, and many or most diseases of aging—like osteoporosis, heart disease, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s—can be slowed or even prevented by changes in what you eat.
In general, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and legumes that includes moderate fats from olive oil and nuts, with some animal protein and saturated fat, supports the body during aging and protects against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological dysfunction, and other diseases of aging. And no matter what you eat, eat less. Studies suggest caloric restriction reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, protects the heart and brain from damage, lowers cancer risk, and may extend both health and lifespan.
Keep your body fit and strong, for longer, with these food groups and essential nutrients:
1. Dark, leafy greens
These colorful veggies are rich in carotenoids and other powerful antioxidants that protect against age-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Red-orange fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of beta carotene too. Spinach and chard are especially high in lutein, a type of carotenoid that protects the eyes from age-related macular degeneration. Leafy greens are also rich in folic acid, a B vitamin that keeps arteries healthy and slows cognitive decline over time. Plus, the magnesium, calcium, and vitamin K in greens are essential for keeping bones strong and warding off osteoporosis.
Healthy Aging Eats: Spinach, kale, chard, collard greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, mangoes, apricots.
Blackberries and other dark red/purple/blue fruits and vegetables are high in anthocyanins, antioxidants that reduce inflammation, protect against heart disease, cancer, and other age-related diseases, and may extend longevity. Antioxidants in berries are especially powerful for keeping the eyes and brain healthy during aging, and increased consumption of blueberries has been linked with improved learning, recall and memory, and a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Healthy Aging Eats: Blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, red cabbage, cherries, pomegranates, purple plums, beets, purple sweet potatoes, radicchio.
See also: Head to Toe Antioxidant Guide
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies contain sulphorophane, a compound that may cancer, and studies have linked a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli with a lower risk of breast, prostate, colorectal, kidney and other cancers. Compounds in crucifers also keep blood vessels healthy as we age to reduce the risk of heart disease, cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases.
Healthy Aging Eats: Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, arugula, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy, radishes.
Tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes and other reddish-pink fruits and vegetables their characteristic color. Lycopene is especially protective against cardiovascular disease and reduces the risk of prostate, breast, and other cancers. Plus, it counteracts the sun’s damaging UV rays and can minimize wrinkles and other signs of aging in the skin. Tomato paste is the most concentrated source of lycopene, and eating tomatoes cooked with olive oil makes lycopene significantly more available to the body.
Healthy aging Eats: Guava, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, red bell peppers.
Onions, garlic, and other members of the allium family are rich in sulfur-containing compounds that protect against free radical damage, inhibit tumor growth, and reduce the risk of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Garlic is especially beneficial for the heart, promoting healthy cholesterol land blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and keeping arteries healthy over time. And red onions contain anthocyanins, the same powerful antioxidants found in blueberries and other dark red/purple fruits and vegetables.
Healthy Aging Eats: Yellow, white, and red onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives.
6. Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are packed with fiber and protein, and most studies show people who eat lots of legumes have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, colorectal and stomach cancer, and overall mortality. Legumes, especially lentils, also improve insulin sensitivity, and studies suggest people who eat higher quantities of legumes have a lower risk of diabetes. And they’re rich in resistant starch, a hard-to-digest carbohydrate that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and supports a healthy microbiome, crucial for immune health during aging.
Healthy Aging Eats: Lentils, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, navy beans, fava beans.
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil and other sources of monounsaturated fats, like avocados, walnuts, and other nuts, promote healthy cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, ward off inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. And monounsaturated fats counteract damage from the sun’s UV rays, lessening signs of aging in the skin. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidant compounds that protect the brain from age-related dementia, and studies suggest olive oil improves cognitive function, enhances memory and learning ability, slows age-related cognitive decline, and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Healthy Aging Eats: Olive oil, avocado, olives, walnuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios.
Seeds also contain monounsaturated fats, and they’re packed with other nutrients that support healthy aging. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that lowers the risk of cancer, arthritis, cataracts, and other diseases of aging, and minimizes sun damage to the skin. Pumpkin seeds protect against age-related changes to the prostate gland. Chia, hemp, and flaxseeds are also good sources of fiber and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. And flaxseeds are high in lignans, phytoestrogens that may lower the risk of breast, prostate, and other cancers.
Healthy Aging Eats: Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds.
See also: Seeds of Change
9. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, are high in EPA and DHA, omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation, improve rheumatoid arthritis and protect against cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, and a higher intake of omega-3s is linked with a lower risk of sudden cardiac arrest and total mortality. EPA and DHA also support healthy mood, and in one study of older Americans, lower levels of omega-3 fats were related to increased risk of depression. And wild sockeye salmon is rich in astaxanthin and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that protect the eyes from age-related damage.
Healthy Aging Eats: wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout.