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Eating healthily for a longer life

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Ageing: everyone does it, yet some people seem relatively unaffected by getting older. Could good nutrition be the key to a healthier, longer life?

Does ageing equal illness?

Ageing is often associated with the development of one or more chronic diseases, but it doesn't have to be that way.

It's not just a matter of time before you have a heart attack or stroke, get type 2 diabetes or cancer, break a hip because of osteoporosis, or develop Alzheimer's, even though these conditions are often associated with ageing.

Your risk of disease and disability also increases with inadequate physical activity, genetic susceptibility and poor diet.

Ageing: Defy it with diet

So what's the best eating plan for preventing, delay, or minimising the conditions associated with ageing, including inflamed joints, flagging memory, and failing eyesight?

Some of the most beneficial diets are rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, and legumes, foods that are naturally lower in calories and packed with nutrients.

Experts suspect the antioxidant compounds found in fruit and vegetables, legumes (beans), and wholegrains are largely responsible for holding back the march of time. The British Dietetic Association says some phytochemicals such as flavonoids, glucosinolate and phyto-oestrogens "act as antioxidants", which may reduce damage to cell DNA and cell membranes.

Research suggests antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and other compounds, including polyphenols and anthocyanins, battle the unstable forms of oxygen that damage cell function that are known as free radicals which arise from normal metabolism. Your body also produces them in response to strong ultraviolet rays from the sun; air pollution; smoking; and second-hand smoke.

The build-up of free radicals may contribute to the ageing process and to the development of a number of age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis. What's worse, ageing increases free-radical production. That means your diet should be healthier with the passage of time. The theory is, fighting off damage with antioxidants may help keep your immune system healthy and therefore better able to ward off colds, flu and other infections, although more research is needed.

Anti-ageing nutrition

Antioxidants generate a lot of excitement when it comes to longevity. For instance, a Japanese study of 1,000 people over 70 found that those who drank the most green tea (containing antioxidant catechins) showed the least signs of the cognitive decline associated with ageing. But ageing well takes more effort. You must optimise a myriad of beneficial nutrients, including protein, calcium, and vitamin D, and minimise detrimental dietary components including saturated and trans fats.


Nuts are cholesterol-free protein sources, and are worthy substitutes for fatty meats. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in a group of nearly 35,000 women, those who ate foods rich in vitamin E, including nuts, lowered their risk of having a stroke.

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