What if the fountain of youth were in your own kitchen? While we've come to expect certain physical and mental changes as an inevitable part of getting older, the fact is that the foods we eat-or don't-may speed those processes along, aging us before our time. The reason is simple: "We eat too many processed foods," says David Katz, MD, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. "They're often high in calories and low in nutrients such as vitamin B12 and omega-3s, so we end up with islands of deficiencies in a sea of excess." These inadequacies can result in symptoms we tend to assume are due to aging, such as the four below. Work with your doctor to determine whether adjusting your diet or adding a supplement can help you look-and feel-younger.
Mistake #1: You avoid all animal protein.
Why it's aging you: You may lack of vitamin B12. which is essential for energy.
Found only in foods that are derived from animals, this nutrient helps regulate your metabolism and energy production and is key to maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system. "Fatigue is a classic sign of B12 deficiency, which usually occurs in people who don't eat very much animal protein," says Danine Fruge, MD, associate medical director of the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami. Chewing a lot of antacids to relieve heartburn can also lead to B12 deficiency because antacids interfere with B12 absorption.
Food Fix: Have two servings of nonfat dairy foods, such as fat-free milk or nonfat yogurt, and 3 to 4 ounces of lean protein daily. Good sources of B12 include seafood such as fish, clams, oysters, and mussels, as well as lean beef and pork, chicken, and fortified cereal.
Take 500 to 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12 in tablet form every day to raise and maintain your B12 levels.
Inspiring chicken dinners that are weeknight-quick!
Mistake #2: You avoid supplements.
Why it's aging you: You miss manganese and copper, which help prevent joint pain.
Because manganese and copper are both essential for maintaining joint cartilage and flexibility, "in most cases, supplementing these nutrients reverses the joint deterioration and eliminates the pain," says Dale Peterson, MD, director of the Comprehensive Wellness Center in Sapulpa, OK. "The body can actually repair a significant amount of damage if it's given the proper support."
Food Fix: Nuts, beef, and spinach are good sources of these nutrients, but you won't be able to eat enough to get all your copper and manganese, so opt for a supplement, Dr. Peterson advises. Take 2 mg of copper and 5 mg of manganese each day. Within 2 to 3 months, your joints should feel less painful.
Supplements that help you avoid disease
Mistake #3: You avoid fish and fat.
Why it's aging you: Fish and healthy oils (like olive) offer the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids ,which help prevent memory loss.
"These fatty acids are part of the brain's building blocks," explains Andrew Weil, MD, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. "If you're not getting enough in your diet, the architecture of the brain becomes weak, and brain function, including memory, suffers." But it's not only the amount of omega-3s that's important; the balance between omega-3s and omega-6s is equally crucial. "Our diets are flooded with omega-6 fatty acids, mostly from processed foods," says Dr. Weil. "The more omega-6s you eat, the more omega-3s you need to balance your levels. Most of us aren't eating enough omega-3s and are eating too many omega-6s."
Food Fix: First, reduce your consumption of refined and processed foods much as possible, and cook with olive or canola oil. Then, eat 3 1⁄2 ounces of wild salmon and 3 1⁄2 ounces of herring, sardines, or halibut each week. Add 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed to cereal, whole grain side dishes, or shakes daily, and garnish salads or cereal with 1 tablespoon of walnuts 5 days a week. Finally, enjoy 9 to 12 almonds 4 times a week.
Take at least 2,000 mg of fish oil daily.
Look for 1,000 mg capsules of combined docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Mistake #4: You favor packaged foods over whole.
Why it's aging you: Packaged foods are high in blood pressure-spiking sodium-and fresh fruits and veggies contain blood pressure-lowering potassium.
"Having too little potassium in your diet magnifies the toxic effects of excessive salt intake," Dr. Fruge says. Most processed foods have added sodium but no extra potassium, so if your meals come from boxes, you're likely at risk. Worsening the situation, when your kidneys try to flush out the salt, you lose even more potassium. "The imbalance damages blood vessels, driving up blood pressure," Dr. Fruge notes. "Eating better can correct the problem-I've seen people drop thirty points in three days."
Food Fix: Cut your sodium consumption to no more than 1,500 mg per day, and eat seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
What fruit and/or veggie would you take to a dessert island?
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