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Expert advice on the best foods to eat for optimal health as you age

There are many foods that help the body thrive as it ages. Supplied image.

There are many foods that help the body thrive as it ages. Supplied image.

Published Nov 15, 2023

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Nutrition plays a vital role in the promotion of health and vitality as we age.

Murray Hewlett, CEO of health-care provider Affinity Health, says ageing comes various changes in our bodies.

“Our metabolism slows down, bone density decreases, and we may face challenges like heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline,” he said.

“However, a well-balanced diet can significantly impact how we age, helping us maintain physical and mental health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.”

Hewlett listed the following foods that help the body thrive as it ages, as well as to ensure a healthier and happier quality of life.

Leafy greens

Leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, watercress, kale and Swiss chard are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. “They are abundant in vitamin K, which is essential for bone health and helps prevent fractures,” Hewlett said.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

“These beneficial fats have demonstrated their ability to combat inflammation, lower the likelihood of heart disease, and support brain function, potentially reducing the risk of cognitive decline,” he said.

Berries

Berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries contain antioxidants, vitamins, and fibre. “They can help improve memory, reduce inflammation, and promote heart health,” Hewlett said.

Seeds and nuts

Nuts such as pecans, almonds and walnuts, and seeds such as chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseed are high in healthy fats, fibre, and protein.

They can aid in the maintenance of good cholesterol levels, the prevention of heart disease, and the support of brain health, Hewlett said.

Whole grains

Oats, wholewheat, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, and brown rice are whole grains that provide essential nutrients and fibre. He said these foods can assist with regulating blood sugar, support digestive health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Yoghurt

“As people age, their bodies may produce fewer digestive enzymes, making it more challenging to break down and absorb nutrients from food effectively,” Hewlett said.

Yoghurt contains probiotics, which are beneficial micro-organisms that aid digestion.

“Probiotics can assist in maintaining healthy gut flora and reduce the risk of digestive problems such as constipation and diarrhoea. Probiotics are also associated with a lower risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.”

Colourful vegetables

Vegetables with vibrant colours, such as carrots, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes, are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “They enhance skin, eyesight, and immune function,” Hewlett said.

Lean protein

Protein is vital in preserving muscle mass, which diminishes as we age. Hewlett suggested choosing lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, or legumes to bolster your well-being and mobility.

Olive oil

Olive oil is rich in heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats and antioxidants. These are believed to help reduce inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease, and support brain health, he explained.

Dairy or dairy alternatives

Dairy products, such as milk and yoghurt, are high in calcium and vitamin D, which are needed for bone health. But If you're lactose intolerant or prefer plant-based options, Hewlett recommends fortified dairy alternatives such as almond or soy milk.

Herbs and spices

Turmeric contains curcumin, which is linked to reduced inflammation and improved brain function while ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may help relieve the symptoms of disorders such as arthritis.

Ginger also helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease by increasing heart health parameters.

Eggs

Eggs are a nutrient powerhouse, providing protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. “They support muscle health, and the choline in eggs is essential for brain function,” Hewlett said.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate made with at least 70% cocoa is loaded with powerful antioxidants, such as flavonoids and polyphenols, which help to combat oxidative stress and reduce cell damage caused by free radicals.

Hewlett said that some studies suggest that dark chocolate's antioxidants positively impact cognitive function and help protect the brain from age-related decline.