Eat yourself young!

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In January, many of us try to kick start the year with a healthier lifestyle. It is key to remember that, in the quest for eternal youth, what we put inside our bodies can be even more important that what we do to the outside, writes dietician Denise Fair.

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The market for anti-ageing products and treatments is a thriving multi-billion dollar industry. The choice is limitless – facials, mud masks, microdermabrasion, and every conceivable fruit and vegetable scrub, to name a few – all in the name of making us look younger.

However, many people are unaware that when it comes to maintaining a youthful look, what we put inside our bodies is actually more important than what we do to the outside.

Ageing isn’t just skin deep: Healthy dietary choices are critical to delay the onset of cell degeneration, the main contributor in ageing. In addition to those wrinkles we worry about, the ageing process also happens within the body causing memory loss, decreased brain function, vision problems and circulatory problems. As we age there is also an increased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

The primary causes of ageing are inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which cause free radicals to build up in our bodies over time. Free radicals are unstable molecules that circulate throughout the body and bind with healthy tissue. The binding of free radicals to healthy cells damages the cell and causes inflammation and ageing.

Antioxidants are the best ways to combat free radicals. Antioxidants bind to the unstable free radicals preventing them from binding to healthy tissue. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, the main ones including vitamin C, vitamin A, lycopene and beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium. Consuming an antioxidant rich diet is preferable to taking supplements as natural sources are better absorbed and utilized than synthetic ones. In addition to reducing oxidative stress, eating foods that have anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce the likelihood of age-related diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body and are found in fatty fish, walnuts, flax seed, soy and nuts and seeds.

Vegetarian diets are known to slow down the ageing process. Vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol, and eat more fibre, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 fats, while consuming fewer calories than other eating patterns. Vegetarians also tend to weigh less than meat-eaters and have lower cancer rates and a lower risk of death from certain heart diseases. While you don’t need to switch to a vegetarian diet exclusively, it is recommended that vegetables should make up half of your plate

Whether you choose to change your eating lifestyle is up to you. But, by incorporating the following healthy foods into your diet, you can help fight the ageing process naturally:


A half-cup serving of broccoli contains more than two-thirds of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the immune system and block free radicals. This phytochemical powerhouse, along with other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, produce protective enzymes called sulforaphane, which are thought to be protective against cancers of the mouth, stomach, oesophagus and bowel.


Besides being the most frequently advertised way to obtain your vitamin C, this juicy fruit is full of skin-firming collagen. Vitamin C is integral in cellular renewal and collagen formation. An October 2007 study found that people who ate foods rich in vitamin C had fewer wrinkles and less age-related dry skin than those whose diets contained only small amounts of the vitamin. Add one to your morning breakfast menu.


Omega-3s can help prevent cancer and act as powerful anti-inflammatories. Fish ranks amongst the foods highest in omega-3s, and good options include herring, salmon, halibut and anchovies. An added benefit is that those who eat diets high in omega-3-rich foods experience fewer chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea. It is recommended that you have two servings a week of fatty fish.

Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil

Vegetarians and those who don’t like fish or seafood might prefer to try flaxseed oil. It has a near equal amount of omega-3s to fatty fish. Add a tablespoon or two to smoothies, or sprinkle ground flaxseeds into cereal, porridge, vegetables or homemade baked goods. Other non-fish omega 3s can be found in walnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocadoes and legumes.


Not only did spinach make Popeye strong, it would also have strengthened his immunity from disease. Dark-coloured fruits and vegetables, including spinach, are the best way to get vitamin A into our bodies, and help to keep the digestive system running efficiently. Spinach is also rich in lutein and zeoxanthin – carotenoids that have been shown to reduce cancer risk. Spinach also contains folate, which is needed for cell reproduction and cellular repair.

Sweet potatoes/yams

These are usually deep orange in colour and, as complex carbohydrates, are high in beta carotene, manganese, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. They are also powerful antioxidants that help to heal inflammation in the body. Sweet potatoes contain the mineral copper, which facilitates collagen production, which helps ward off loose, thin skin. (Carrots are also high in beta-carotene. To ensure optimal nutrient intake, cook or steam carrots whole and cut them up afterwards. This helps retain more nutrients and gives them a sweeter taste.)

Beans and legumes

Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike can keep their bodies in tip-top shape with protein-packed beans and legumes. They are low in fat and sodium and high in complex carbohydrates and fibre. They offer some essential fatty acids, including omega-3, and are an excellent source of protein. A cup of soybeans packs protein comparable to a four-ounce serving of chicken or steak. Throw them onto salads, stir into hearty soups or whip up some tasty, homemade hummus.


When you serve this staple, you’re holding up a stop sign to the ageing process. Poultry is high in zinc and selenium, two minerals that balance hormones and promote collagen production. It also defends against free radical damage, which harms cells and accelerates ageing.


Berries of all types are super-rich in antioxidants. Darker berries, especially those that are black or blue, tend to provide the best anti-ageing benefit as they have the highest concentration of antioxidants. Berries can help improve memory, reduce inflammation, slow and reverse neurological degeneration, and their high vitamin C content helps repair damage to body tissue such as your skin.

Green tea

Switching from coffee or regular tea to green tea is a simple way to slow down the ageing process. Drinking six to ten small cups of green tea a day adds health-promoting catechins, which reduce inflammation and cholesterol, thereby lowering the risk of diabetes and stroke, and staving off dementia. An added bonus is that green tea slightly increases metabolic rate, helping you burn up to an extra 80 calories per day.

Foods that cause ageing

Hydrogenated fats (trans-fats)

Think of these as artificial or fake fat. They are extremely bad for you and, in addition to promoting inflammation, trans-fats promote insulin resistance, high cholesterol and obesity. These nasty fats are prevalent in deep-fried foods, commercially baked goods and fast foods. They are found in most of your processed pre-packaged foods – biscuits, cookies, popcorn, crisps, chips, crackers, breads and noodles. Watch food labels carefully. Avoid margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated oil. Watch labels for these ingredients because the packaging generally won’t advertise that a product contains “trans fats”.

Processed grains and meat

Refined grains basically have their nutritional value stripped right out of them to make it easier for food factories to produce and store them on supermarket shelves. Furthermore, processed grain products typically have a whole spectrum of added ingredients that make them even less healthy, such as excess salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients. White rice, white flour, white bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits and baked goods are a few examples of processed grain foods.

Scientific research shows that processed meat is a very strong contributor to ageing and disease, especially cancer of the colon and rectum. Processed meats include those that have been smoked, salted, cured or preserved with chemicals, such as lunchmeat with nitrates. Avoid eating bacon, turkey bacon (no, it isn’t better for you!), sausages, hotdogs/wieners/franks, hams, lunch meats and other cold cuts.

Cooking oils high in omega-6

Most people’s diets are dangerously high in omega-6, and dangerously low in omega-3, contributing greatly to premature ageing and disease. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils like sunflower, corn, safflower, cottonseed, and grape seed oils have very high omega-6 and very low omega-3, and should be used sparingly. Alternative good choices include canola oil and olive oil.


If you are generally in good health, a glass of red wine or beer daily have both been shown to be beneficial. But, be careful that you do not slip into regular or excessive drinking: high alcohol consumption provokes inflammation, especially of the liver and oesophagus.

Artificial ingredients

Aspartame. Saccharin. BHA and BHT. Mono-sodium glutamate. Potassium bromate. Sodium nitrate and nitrate. These are some of the worst artificial ingredient offenders. Artificial sweeteners and other artificial ingredients that preserve, thicken, or flavour, are artificial – meaning they are not really meant to go into your body. Many have been linked to various serious diseases including cancer. If you want to look younger, feel younger, heal and prevent disease, and live longer, seek whole and natural foods, and read labels carefully to avoid these deadly agents.

The quickest and easiest way to maintain your youth and prevent the signs of aging is to eat a healthy, balanced diet full of natural, real foods, and leave the processed, high fat, high sugar foods on the grocery shelf.

Denise Fair is a dietician at Central Health Medical Practice.

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