Eating a healthy diet along with exercise can help reduce problems as we age
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
No food represents an edible fountain of youth. However, eating a variety of healthful foods, along with exercise, adequate sleep, stress mitigation and eschewing unhealthful habits like tobacco use and drug abuse, can support healthy aging.
The key areas that promote overall wellness while aging include the gut, brain, skin and joints.
Gut health is important as it is viewed as a vital part of the immune system and as the body’s means of absorbing nutrients.
In addition to eating foods containing probiotics, the good bacteria, such as yogurt, kefir and kombucha, Hannah Smith, a registered dietitian, said that it is important to eat between 25 and 30 grams of dietary fiber daily as fiber feeds good bacteria.
“Most Americans get 15 grams of fiber,” she said. “Fiber is something you introduce slowly. Build it up slowly over time. Drink enough water as you’re increasing your fiber.”
Smith is the manager of clinical nutrition for Newark-Wayne Community Hospital and Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic.
Green, leafy vegetables, whole wheat bread and whole grains like chia seeds and plain popcorn and oatmeal are all good sources of fiber. But check the label for fiber content, as often product claims do not live up to the hype.
Smith also cautioned against excess alcohol, as that taxes the gastrointestinal system.
In addition to monitoring sun exposure and wearing sunscreen, Smith recommends drinking enough water and consuming foods with enough vitamins D, A and C, along with zinc and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
“These all contribute to how your skin maintains your integrity,” Smith said. “Many of these repair skin cells.”
Good sources of omega 3 and 6 are fatty fish, avocado, nuts, green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate in moderation. Lean beef, shellfish, legumes, seeds and eggs are rich in zinc. Consume vitamins of all sorts in a colorful variety of produce.
To support skin health, Heather Carrera, doctor of clinical nutrition at the office of Lesley James, MD in Pittsford, advises avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol, poor sleep and an inflammatory diet high in sugar and refined carbs.
“That damages collogen production, which leads to the breakdown of skin’s integrity and leads to sagging,” she said. “Avoiding those things is a huge part.”
It can also help to eat foods that contain collagen, like fish, chicken, bone broth. Carrera also said that vitamin C, a precursor to collagen production, is important. Foods such citrus fruits, strawberries and broccoli are rich in vitamin C.
“It also links back to gut health as these issues often manifest as skin issues,” Carrera said.
Brain health while aging is a big concern for many adults. Since the brain is mainly comprised of fat, Carrera recommends consuming fat; however, it must be the right kind.
“You need healthy fat with the omega-3 from fish, which are key for brain health, especially for improving memory and focus,” she said. “Other healthy fats are important, but omega-3 is the most important.”
Sources like avocados, olive oil and olives contain “polyphenols which improve learning and memory,” Carrera said. “Colene is another. It’s hard to get in the diet. The main food is eggs. Eggs are often avoided for people conscious of health because of their cholesterol levels. But they’re the most concentrated source of choline in the diet.
“It’s vital for communication between the brain cells.”
Since a high level of oxidated stress ages the brain, consuming antioxidants, such as in blueberries, can help mitigate the effects. Carrera also recommends walnuts and green tea for supporting brain help.
Physical activity supports good health at any age. However, as one grows older, painful joints can make it harder to keep moving. Carrera said that as with skin health, collagen rich foods or supplements can help.
“A lot of people I work with, the joint pain is a symptom of something that hasn’t been addressed,” Carrera said. “Autoimmune disease is often a root cause. A lot of people do well with adding turmeric or curcumin, but the majority of people it takes more digging. Once you identify an autoimmune disorder, you have to get to the root of what’s driving this process.”
These issues may be addressed with medication or possibly a food elimination diet. Since joint pain can have different causes, it is important to look at each person individually and to not make any changes in diet or exercise without discussing them with a healthcare provider.