“You are what you eat.”
We don’t know who said it first, but it’s certainly true. Numerous studies have proven that what we eat plays a big part in our overall health. While it’s always important to eat nutritious foods from all the food groups, our food choices become even more important as we age.
Contrary to what certain food manufacturers will tell you, there’s really no such thing as the one super-food that will cure all your troubles. But there is a basic diet that is proven to boost your health—particularly heart health—and promote longevity.
Also known as the Mediterranean diet, it involves eating primarily plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts; using olive oil; limiting red meat; and eating fish or poultry at least twice a week. The Mediterranean lifestyle also includes getting plenty of exercise.
This eating style is common among countries on the Mediterranean sea, and contributes to general health and longevity of people living in those areas. We can incorporate parts of that lifestyle to improve different aspects of our health as we age.
What to eat to boost your memory
A good brain-healthy diet includes foods high in vitamins B6, B12, D, C, and E, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. These are the building blocks of a strong brain, and eating foods that contain them will improve cognitive function and help prevent dementia.
Foods that are high in these vitamins are:
- Leafy greens—romaine lettuce, broccoli, spinach, kale, and turnip greens—are high in vitamin B, folate, and lutein.
- Cold water fish such as salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel, and sardines have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Beans, some nuts, and flax seeds also are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Dark-skinned fruits—berries, plums, red grapes, and cherries—are rich in antioxidants.
- Coffee and (low sugar) chocolate, while not part of the Mediterranean diet, may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
What to eat to enhance heart health
Your food choices to stimulate heart health are similar to what you would eat for brain health. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens. Dairy is beneficial for the calcium it offers, and choose whole grains over their more processed counterparts.
Heart-healthy proteins include lean meat, salmon, beans and lentils, and eggs. Unsalted nuts and seeds are excellent in moderation as well. You should also eliminate trans fats from your diet, and stick with healthy fats such as olive oil or canola oil.
What to eat for healthy bones
As we said in our last post, our bones become weaker and more brittle as we age. Our calcium and vitamin D needs skyrocket. Dairy, with its high calcium and vitamin D levels, is an excellent choice for bone health.
What to eat for smoother skin
The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and other fish can help keep your skin cells strong and flexible, reducing brittle skin. In addition, olive oil and tomatoes have antioxidants that may block sun damage to your skin.
What to eat for general health
It’s important to make sure you’re eating enough protein, including red meat to give you iron as well. Liver, in particular, is an excellent source of iron.
Dehydration is very common among seniors, so you should also make sure you’re drinking enough.
As you can see, foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet tend to overlap and provide many different benefits. Eating a rich and varied diet of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, and fish will provide many different benefits.