Foods that make you feel better

April 10, 2012|Lynn Little

You know that fruits, vegetables, whole grains are good for you, but some foods have been shown to be standouts for lowering problems linked to aging. You might want to include more of these on your shopping list:

 "Brainberries": That's the nickname Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale and coauthor James A. Joseph, PhD, gave to blueberries and their cousins — such as blackberries, cranberries and strawberries. Berry fruits are rich in antioxidant polyphenolic compounds that protect against the age-related decline of cognitive and motor functions. Eating about a cup of berries a day, fresh or frozen, reduces oxidative stress (hence the term "antioxidants"), lowers inflammation and improves brain cell signaling.

 Blueberries: This fruit tops the list of beneficial berries, but most berries carry a lot of nutritional power for their size. You might want to read the label closely: A USDA study of blueberries grown in New Jersey showed that those cultivated organically for commercial sale had higher levels of phytonutrients (beneficial compounds) than did the berries grown under conventional methods.

  Red peppers, oranges, pine nuts, roasted sunflower seeds, safflower oil: Vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamin C help prevent skin appearance changes related to aging. Nuts and oils with high amounts of linoleic acid provide similar defense. Regardless of age, sun exposure or other factors, women who eat more foods that are rich in vitamin C and linoleic acid have fewer wrinkles, less skin dryness and less gradual thinning of skin layers.

 Cocoa: It's not just for kids anymore. You might have switched to green tea for its antioxidant benefits, but cocoa is actually higher in the powerful phenolic phytochemicals that fight oxidative damage. Cocoa leads the list for antioxidant capacity, ahead of red wine, green tea and black tea. Make cocoa with nonfat milk and you'll help strengthen your bones as well.

 Spinach, kale, collards: Here's another reason to eat more vegetables: high vegetable consumption produces a slower rate of cognitive decline with age. Dr. Martha Morris and her colleagues from the Center of Nutrition and Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago looked at more than 3,700 people, 65 or older, and found that those who ate three to four daily servings of vegetables — particularly leafy greens —had less decline in memory, recall and other mental functions than did those who ate less than one serving of veggies per day.

 Walnuts: These popular nuts enabled aged rats to improve motor performance (such as walking on a plank) and thinking skills. Because of these results, researchers believe walnuts look very promising for strengthening cognition.

 Fish: It's been called "brain food" for decades, but now there's evidence that fish helps keep your mental abilities strong while you age.

Compared with people who ate less than one fish meal per week, those who ate fish at least once weekly showed a slower rate of age-related cognitive decline.

For more information on age-defying foods, go to

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

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