Food combos can help slow aging, fight disease

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Posted on January 28, 2013

No special diet can make you younger or stop you from aging. Everyone ages at the same pace, year by year.

But there is a crop of food and herbs that medical experts believe can improve vitality and extend life. These foods, in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, can delay or ward off age-related aches, pains and diseases.

“It’s more about aging gracefully, aging in good health,” said Dr. Paul Mittman, president of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe. “We all know where we are going to end up, but how and what we eat makes a difference in how healthy we are going to be on the journey, and how long it will take.”

Research points to a “fountain of youth” diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy — basically, the same eating plan touted for defending the body against cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

The overarching term is an anti-inflammatory diet. Science blames chronic inflammation for the leading age-related diseases, from cancer to heart disease to arthritis. Foods with anti-inflammation properties — nuts, salmon, turmeric, dark chocolate, greens, tomatoes and avocados — fight back.

In addition to anti-inflammation powers, many fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids, substances that corral and neutralize the cell-damaging free radicals that accelerate aging and lead to disease. Scientists also have found that certain flavonoids have memory-enhancing properties.

Although a handful of foods possess extraordinary powers, no one food by itself can slow aging and fight disease, Mittman said. It takes a “village” of foods working together to accomplish the goal.

“Every year, we hear about a new magic bullet, an obscure berry from Nepal. But if you still eat fast food regularly, adding a berry or salmon to your diet won’t make much difference,” he said.

Along with a plant-based diet, doctors recommend avoiding foods that accelerate the downside of aging, including sugar, salt and saturated fats.

Also, pay attention to amounts. More is not necessarily better with some healthful foods, especially avocados and nuts, which are loaded with calories.

Experts agree that it’s never too late to eat to ward off the diseases associated with aging. Begin taking baby steps, slowly replacing age-accelerating foods with those that slow down aging and fight disease.

Patients in their 60s have reversed age-related disease by adopting healthier eating habits, said Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, education director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.

“Diet is the foundation for better health, a longer lifespan,” she said. “Food has the power to heal and change lives at any time in our lives.”

Low Dog also recommends an 80-20 balance, with the bulk being healthful and the remaining “anything you want to eat.”

“Few of us can eat right all the time,” she said, “but if you eat right most of the time, you will have an edge, protecting your heart, brain, eyes and joints against the diseases associated with aging.”

Source: University of Arizona