Thursday, June 6, 2013

Aging Gracefully: Is Your Diet Aging You?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see – are you aging gracefully or do you look older than your years? If you don't appear to be aging gracefully, consider looking at what you eat. Beyond that consider what you are actually digesting. After all, no matter what types of foods you have in your diet, if your body is not getting the full nutritional value out of them then you are losing the health benefits. Either or both of these dietary concerns could lead to not aging gracefully.

What Are You Eating?
Not eating a healthy diet can certainly lead to looking older. Fast foods, junk foods, foods high in trans fats, sugar and/or carbs and lots of processed foods can cause an inflammatory state in your body. An unhealthy diet can not only lead to many diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, but can also cause damage to skin collagen and fibers. If your diet mainly consists of foods of this type, it's no wonder you don't find yourself aging gracefully.

Really start taking a look at the types of foods you eat and if you are not reading labels on products already, start doing so. Processed meats such as sandwich meats or hotdogs for example tend to be high in saturated fats, nitrates and sodium. Add some french fries with that hotdog or sandwich and you are adding trans fats to the meal. Anything deep fried has lots of trans fats which the American Heart Association recommends should be less than 1% of your daily dietary intake. They recommend that saturated fats be kept to less than 7% of your daily diet. These saturated and trans fats add to the inflammatory state in the body as well as contribute to problems with your arteries. Having too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure and higher risk of heart attack or stroke. If you just can't give up your sandwich or hotdog for lunch, look for a brand that has low or no salt.

The good news is that the inflammation caused by this type of eating can be reduced and you can start looking like you are aging gracefully by making some dietary changes. Eating a variety of high quality vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean meats and other protein sources is the best way to keep your body healthy, active and looking its best. Including fish such as tuna, salmon and herring which are high in omega-3 fatty acids can help fight the inflammation. Whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice and quinoa not only have been found to help reduce inflammation but also have thiamine and riboflavin which help keep skin healthy. Your skin also needs lots of good protein to keep it healthy. Look for lean meats and healthy alternative protein sources such as soy and beans. Eating a variety of food high in antioxidants can also help when it comes to aging gracefully. These foods added to your diet can help you get more antioxidants:
  • Lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and arugula are high in antioxidant vitamins A and C
  • Blueberries, green tea, sprouts, garlic, blue green algae, edible grasses and tumeric are all sources of antioxidants
  • Tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, asparagus and red cabbage are high in the antioxidant lycopene
  • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale are high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, calcium, iron, and folate
  • Beans are a lean source of protein and have lots of fiber and antioxidant vitamins.
Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage, help with cellular repair, replace lipids in the membranes that have been damaged and act as cleansers or scavengers for free radicals. If your lifestyle is such that you just can't get in enough antioxidants through the foods you eat, you can add supplements to your diet such as one loaded with sprouts, chlorophyll, glutathione, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Instead of giving up on the nutrition you need, search for other ways to get it that fits with your lifestyle.

Another consideration as we get older is what medications we are taking. There are some foods that may be in the healthy eating category that do not mix well with certain medications. For example, my father is on some medications that prevent him from eating dark green leafy type vegetables and cranberries. These are healthy to eat, but not for him. The nutrition he would get from eating these foods has to be found from other sources. Don't miss out on the nutrition from the foods you need to avoid, just search for another source that is acceptable. It is always a good idea when taking medications to ask your health care provider if there are any foods you need to avoid.

What Are You Digesting?
If you are eating a healthy diet, good for you! You are one step ahead in the aging gracefully game. Consider now how much of that food your body is able to actually use. How is your digestion? Another thing to consider for seniors is special problems that cause us to avoid some of the foods that can keep us healthy. For example, many people find beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other vegetables of this type cause them to pass excess gas and/or have stomach cramping or that dairy products cause them to have stomach distress. Instead of discounting beans, vegetables or dairy products that cause problems, try adding them in slowly a little bit at a time to your diet and/or drinking extra water when eating them. With dairy products, you may need to look for lactose free products. You can also use digestive enzymes to help in the digestion process of problem foods like beans.

Adding food enzymes to the diet can complete the metabolization of fat, proteins and carbs when taken with food. Taken between meals they are absorbed into the blood and can help clean out residual food particles. There are four types of enzymes that break down food molecules:
  • lipase for fat molecules
  • protease for protein
  • cellulase for cellulose 
  • amylase for starch molecules
Enzymes found naturally in foods become inactive when food is over cooked or processed. Most of us don't get all the enzymes we need for proper digestion for this reason. Not having enough active enzymes puts extra stress on the pancreas, liver and spleen as they have to work overtime to produce enzymes that we are not getting from the foods we eat.

The beneficial bacteria in our intestines is also very important to the digestive process. They support proper digestion and help eliminate waste. The problem is that there are so many things that can throw off the balance of these friendly bacteria. Antibiotics, antacids, other medications, radiation, stress, chemicals in our food, water or air are just some of the things that can contribute to throwing off this balance allowing an overgrowth of yeast and unfriendly bacteria. Adding probiotics to the diet can help balance the friendly bacteria which aid in the digestive process and take stress off of the immune system.

Latobacilluls acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus, better known as acidophilus and bifidus, are found naturally in the intestines. Acidophilus is needed for nutrient absorption and is found along the wall of the small intestine. It activates vitamin production, helps in digestion of food, and in lactose tolerance. Bifidus helps with absorbing water from foods, helps prevent bloating and gas, and aids in the eliminating of waste materials.

Next time you look in the mirror and think you are looking older than your years, think about these two questions: What are you eating? and What are you digesting? Making some simple changes to diet and digestive health can go a long way to helping you with aging gracefully.


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