diet and nutrition

Foods Rich in Antioxidants for Healthy Aging


Although magazine covers and "miracle" cosmetics packages all proclaim the anti-aging secrets they contain, as long as we wake up each morning, getting older is an unstoppable fact.

Perhaps a better and more attainable goal than "anti-aging" is "healthy aging"—giving our bodies and spirits what they need to reduce the risks of physical or mental decline as our 30s become our 40s, then into our 50s, 60s, and so on.

Instead of dreaming about turning back the clock, you can help keep your body strong by equipping it with the biological equivalent of fresh batteries. "Why do you have to fight against aging if you have healthy aging?" asks Barbara Shukitt-Hale, PhD, a research psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. That's not just a theoretical question, no matter what your current age.

Reducing risk, one bite at a time

Oxidative stress is the cumulative, day-to-day assault our cells endure. The longer we live, the more oxidative stress our bodies experience. Dr. Shukitt-Hale and her colleagues have studied several foods that appear to repair the toll this stress takes and even protect against further damage. The foods studied also increase the number of brain cells we have and improve their functioning.

We can use such help. "As we age, our bodies are less able to deal with the oxidative stress we encounter," Dr. Shukitt-Hale says. We also become more sensitive to inflammatory responses in our central nervous systems.

While some foods have been shown to support greater health, energy and mental strength in aging bodies, the biological mechanisms that produce those results aren't fully understood yet. Many researchers believe the beneficial effects are created by the variety of nutritional components in real food, working in combination.

That means you should look in the produce aisles, not the drug aisles, to find what you need. "Very few disease processes or healthy outcomes are attained through taking vitamin supplements," says Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of the Center of Nutrition and Aging at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. She cites bone loss and vitamin B12 deficiency as among the few conditions that current research shows can be improved with supplements.

By contrast, when vitamins and other compounds are obtained by eating certain foods, there are big benefits. "We think eating fresh fruit or vegetables, even frozen, is better than taking supplements, because supplements don't have all the compounds," Dr. Shukitt-Hale says. In her research lab, "we've broken down foods into families of compounds, and the individual families aren't as effective" as when they function together.

Age-defying foods