Living till a ripe old age is great if you feel good. But according to a recent study less than a third of people will reach 65 with good health still intact. We all know that you need to keep physically active throughout your life, but what sort of diet should you eat now to increase your chances of a healthy retirement?
It’s generally acknowledged that a low-inflammation diet is associated with successful ageing and lowered risk of disease further down the line. Studies show that Okinawans, renowned for their long and healthy lives, have genetic predisposition to less inflammatory diseases. For us ordinary folk, more decisive action is required. Firstly, eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods such as extra virgin olive oil, soy foods, fatty cold water fish like salmon and spices such as ginger and turmeric. Secondly, lower your intake of inflammatory foods which include the usual processed food, white carbs and sugar.
Eat purple and orange foods
Eating a rainbow of foods may brighten your day but also your retirement. The purple colour in foods like red cabbage, grapes, prunes and blueberries contain the pigment anthocyanin which is linked to a reduced cancer risk. The powerful pigment is also found in the Okinawan purple sweet potato, which contains compounds proven to have significant anti-ageing properties. The colourful potato has much higher anthocyanin levels than other potatoes and 150 per cent more antioxidants than blueberries, and contributes to the longevity of the Hawaiian cuisine.
Orange sweet potatoes are also considered an effective anti-ageing food. Rich in beta carotene, a powerful anti-oxidant able to protect against lung ageing, it is also found in carrots, broccoli and tomatoes. In fact, beta carotene is so powerful that scientists advise smokers to increase their intake (alongside vitamin E) to reduce stress on lung tissue. People whose diet is high in alpha carotene, found in carrots, pumpkins and squash were also less likely to die from cancer and heart disease.
Drink green tea
Green tea is a wonder drink with a multitude of benefits. Rich in EGCG - the most powerful antioxidant - it has the ability to control inflammation and inhibit oxidative stress, as well as high levels of polyphenols protecting DNA from damage.
Over 65’s who drank at least 3 cups a day of green tea were more mobile and self-sufficient, according to a 2012 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those who got through 5 cups a day cut their risk of developing a functional disability (such as needing help getting dressed) by 33 per cent. Drinking up your greens will also help you mentally, for example, a Japanese study showed drinking plenty of green tea helped prevent cognitive decline. So drink a hot mug of tea while you’re doing your crosswords and feel those brain cells thrive!
Up your antioxidants
Upping your intake of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables will help hold back the march of time by fighting free-radicals 24/7 which cause disease. In particular, high intakes of the minerals copper, manganese and selenium have been shown in the “Chinese Medical Dictionary” to be associated with drastically lower levels of heart disease, strokes and tumours. The Okinawans have an incredible 80% less risk of several cancers, attributed partly to their high intake of fruit and vegetables.
Lower red meat intake
You don’t have to completely give up the burgers, but eating less red meat will help to up your chances of a healthy retirement. The Okinawans eat it only on special occasions, instead preferring tofu, chicken and fish. The key is minimising the saturated fat content while still eating small amounts of protein with each meal. While the healthiest red meat is believed to be Bison, we will have to make do with lean cuts of beef in the UK.
Drink red wine
Keeping your heart healthy will add years to your life. The antioxidant resveratrol found in grapes has been shown to extend the lives of laboratory animals. And if you enjoy a glass of red each day (two for men) you’ll get the health perks without the pitfalls of too much alcohol. Anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant properties can also be gained from drinking red grape juice so drink up even if you’re tee-total.
Reducing calorie intake is the only thing which has ever been proven to increase lifespan. So if healthy at 65 isn’t enough of a challenge for you, and you’d prefer to aim for 85, you could simply try eating less. Many people are embracing Dr Michael Moseley’s 5:1 diet which aims to help people lose weight, improve health and age successfully by intermittent fasting. The Institute of Health Ageing at University College London suggests that eating 40 percent less could extend someone’s life by 20 years.
Remember that other factors like genetics, activity levels and plain luck play an important role in successful ageing. But a healthy diet is unquestionably a strong weapon to add to the anti-ageing arsenal.
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