Dr Miriam Stoppard looks at how you can eat to beat the march of time through your body by following a healthy, balanced diet
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There are so many basic, wonderful foods packed with age-defying nutrients I truly believe we can eat ourselves into a longer life.
All fruit and vegetables contain vast quantities of antioxidants which help repair cells and stop them ageing. So having the minimum five helpings a day is crucial.
As we get older it may be we need as many as 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. I sometimes eat as many as 12.
We know antioxidants work better together than alone, which is why popping supplements isn’t the answer. So if you can find foods containing, say, beta-carotene, vitamin E AND vitamin C – like sweet potato or peppers – they really pack a punch.
Even after cancer is diagnosed, eating lots of vegetables and fruits can hinder its spread. And it’s even possible that eating fruits rich in beta-carotene such as carrots, sweet potato, spinach and leafy green vegetables could cut the risk of cancer. Eating the right foods could even cut your risk of cancer
Increase your health span as well as your lifespan by eating power foods containing anti-ageing nutrients. Here’s a rundown of some of power nutrients and where to get them:
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- Antioxidants: Dark green leaves and veg, dark red/black fruits
- Vitamin C: Blackcurrants, broccoli, strawberries, cabbage, oranges
- Vitamin E: Almonds, hazelnuts, prawns, sweet potato, whole grains, olive oil
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, whole grains, meat, tuna, garlic
- Beta-carotene: Carrot juice, sweet potato, apricots, mangoes, any yellow/orange fruit or veg
- Flavonoids: Tea, onions, apples, broccoli, cranberries
- Fibre: Wholegrains, oats, celery, cabbage
Top tips – eat right, stay well, live long
The key to healthy eating is to consume a variety of foods, and here are a few tips I’ve assembled over the years that I find helpful:
- Eat many diferent foods, mainly veg
- Limit fat intake to a third or less of total calories, mostly as oils
- Drink water before you eat
- Eat slowly
- Cut your calories by chewing sugarless gum before a meal – it reduces your appetite
- Have a cup of black tea before you walk. You burn fat faster
- Make your salads interesting with celery, carrots, broccoli, onions and other vegetables
- Instead of whole juice mix half with water
- Don’t pour oil, spray it
- Think small portions
- Start to earn your calories through exercise
Carbohydrates are your best friend
Irrespective of the nonsense fad for going gluten free, carbohydrates of the unrefined variety are the body’s perfect fuel – and the dieter’s best friend.
They ‘burn clean’, which means they don’t leave any ‘dirty’ toxic waste substances behind that your body has to work hard at dealing with.
And if the body doesn’t get enough of them, you start to feel miserable and depressed. Deprived of carbohydrate, as in a high protein diet, the body breaks down fat reserves and its own muscle.
Unfortunately, fat and protein don’t burn cleanly. They produce toxic substances called ketones and aldehydes that make your breath smell – like pear drops – if levels get too high.
But... there are good carbs and bad carbs
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Some increase blood sugar more than others and they’re said to have a high glycaemic index. That doesn’t mean carbs make you fat, just that high GI foods elevate your insulin levels too much.
High GI foods result in a high, sharp blood sugar peak, which increases the tendency to insulin resistance and diabetes as well as cravings, binges, overeating and obesity.
Low GI foods result in slow, shallow blood sugar peaks, no rebound insulin peak, no tendency to insulin resistance, good appetite control, little overeating and normal weight.
Good carbs = unrefined carbs = low GI foods: Like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, wholemeal products and whole cereals, particularly oats. So good carbs combine the lowest calories with the highest nutrition.
Bad carbs = refined carbs = high GI foods: Any foods containing sugar and all highly refined foods – cakes, biscuits, ice cream and chocolate as well as alcoholic drinks.
And there are good fats and bad fats
Fats in foods can age you – so avoid the nasty ones. One of the reasons why coronary heart disease is so common in the UK is our unhealthy diet.
Fat intake, especially saturated fat in the form of animal fat, is much too high.
Age defying fats
Good fats are mainly oils like olive oil. It can protect the heart by reducing the amount of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol in the blood, making blood platelets less sticky and so less likely to form blood clots.
This may be the reason why people in Mediterranean countries, who consume large amounts of olive oil, have lower death rates from heart disease.
Almost as good as olive oil are rapeseed oil, peanut oil, nuts and cholesterol-lowering margarine.
Why we all need omega-3s
It’s the omega-3s found in oily fish and fish oils that the body needs because they’re protective against:
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers (breast, colon, prostate)
And they’re therapeutic for:
- Mildly raised blood pressure
- Auto-immune diseases (lupus, certain kidney disorders)
- Crohn’s disease
- Inflammation skin diseases (eczema, psoriasis)
- Depression, schizophrenia
So, for general good health, try to make sure you eat a minimum of two fish meals a week. And for heart disease prevention, eat three meals rich in fish oils weekly.
10 quick healthy snacks
- Baked potato with chives and fat-free sour cream
- Veggie burger with lettuce and tomato
- Tablespoon of hummus on one piece of wholemeal bread/rice cake
- Celery sticks with hummus or peanut butter
- Piece of fruit
- Tablespoon of light cream cheese on a wholemeal roll
- Handful of soya nuts (roasted soya beans), unsalted
- Half a melon or papaya filled with low-cal yoghurt
- Rice cake with low-fat cottage cheese and a slice of tomato
- One oatmeal biscuit
How to stay healthy when eating out
It can be tricky eating healthily in restaurants or cafes when you don’t know what ingredients are in the dishes, but you can minimise the damage with these tips:
- Order pasta or baked potato. If it comes with a high-fat creamy sauce or sour cream, ask for it on the side and eat sparingly
- Order fish or chicken rather than red meat, and have it baked or grilled
- Go easy on margarine, butter and fried foods
- Eat a little wholemeal rather than hunks of white bread
- Always get a sandwich without mayonnaise.
- Split dessert with your partner or, better still, have a straight mint tea
- Fill up first with a salad, with little or no dressing
- Eat vegetables first and resist ordering French fries. Steal a few from your partner instead
- Drink water instead of high-calorie soft drinks
Fight ageing with vegetables
So far you’ll have seen that practically all the nutrients that can delay ageing are plentiful in fruits and vegetables. As it happens, a vegetarian diet is a very good advertisement for a longer life.
The vegetarian lifestyle – no meat and eating only plant foods – seems to give you a good chance of ageing slowly and lengthening your life. Being veggie you’ll benefit from:
- Lower weight
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Less chance of getting type 2 diabetes
- Fewer heart attacks
- Less cancer risks
- A strong immune system
Ways to eat your fruit & veg
- Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, but try for 10
- Eat lots of different varieties of fruits and vegetables to get a cross-section of nutrients
- Choose fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables over canned ones where possible
- Eat both whole fruits, vegetables and juices or blend your own
- Eat vegetables both raw and lightly cooked. Both have advantages
- To get the most antioxidants, choose deeply coloured fruits and vegetables
- Cook vegetables in a microwave oven to retain as many antioxidants as possible
The benefits of eating less
It’s not just what you eat, but how much you eat. Eat less (1,500-1,800 max calories per day for women, 2,000-2,300 for men) and you’ll live longer.
Here are some of the anti-ageing effects seen in the longest living race on the planet – the Japanese Okinawans, who consume a lot fewer calories than us:
- Less body fat
- Lower blood sugar
- Less insulin resistance
- Less insulin in the blood
- No type 2 diabetes
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
Believe me, you must drink tea – so just find one you like. Why? Tea, in any form, is a great health food.
After drinking tea, your antioxidant blood levels soar by as much as 50% within 30-50 minutes. Tea also revs up the liver’s detoxification system.
How to crack ‘naughty’ cravings
If you are short on willpower when it comes to ‘naughty’ food high in sugar and fat, essential mineral chromium will help stabilise your blood sugar and prevent cravings. There are many foods that contain chromium, so make sure you include some in your diet: broccoli, barley, brewer’s yeast, prawns, lobster, liver, whole grains, mushrooms and even beer
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