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Foods can minimize effects of aging

September 26, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

The foods you choose can make a difference in how you look and feel.

Whole-grain foods provide you with health-promoting vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent heart disease and some cancers. Whole grains typically offer one and a half to five times the antioxidant value of common fruits and vegetables. Experts recommend you include 6 ounces of grains in your daily diet with half of those being whole-grain foods.

Researchers now know that nuts, high in protein and fiber, offer heart-healthy fats, vitamin E, magnesium and copper. Including nuts in your diet five times a week might reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 53 percent. Substitute 1/4 cup of nuts for other snacks, so as not to add calories.

Researchers recommend increasing daily fruit and vegetable consumption to 2 to 2 1/2 cups, which equates to five to nine servings or more. Some fruits and vegetables offer antioxidants and phytochemicals that reduce the oxidative damage associated with aging, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

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Eating foods high in antioxidants helps protect the immune system, the brain's ability to think and even skin from wrinkling.

Metabolism typically slows with aging, and the need for calories declines with each decade. The need for health-promoting nutrients might, however, increase.

It is important to read food labels carefully and plan meals and snacks to include a variety of foods. Look for health-promoting ingredients. Try to avoid processed foods that are high in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, hydrogenated fats and oils, added sweeteners or sodium.

Follow these tips to start eating a healthier diet:

· Eat recommended portion sizes. All foods should be eaten in moderation.

· Choose whole-grain breads and cereals. As complex carbohydrates, they are provide lasting energy, as well as protein, fiber, essential B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium, phytochemicals and antioxidants.

· Choose low-fat dairy products and calcium-fortified foods to meet the recommended daily allowances for calcium.

· Replace fluids needed for such bodily functions as digestion; cooling (perspiration); and cushioning bones, joints and organs. Drinking eight cups of fluid is recommended, but some fluids can come from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables that have high water content. Caffeine and alcohol are, on the other hand, naturally dehydrating and should be used in moderation.

· Take a vitamin and mineral supplement. A balanced multivitamin supplement taken once a day can help meet nutritional needs. Obtaining vitamins and minerals from foods that also provide disease-preventing phytochemicals and antioxidants is more vital to good health.

· Add 30 or more minutes of weight-bearing exercise (such as walking) five or more days a week to improve body functions, lower blood pressure and strengthen bones. Regular moderate exercise also can help with weight management and reduce stress.

Beginning Oct. 1, Washington County residents will have the opportunity to participate in the Health for Every Body campaign. The campaign endorses the idea that regardless of age, size, shape, gender and race, people can take small steps to improve their health and well-being. Check out the Web site www.healthywashcomd.com to learn more about the campaign.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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