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There’s truth in the adage ‘you are what you eat’

12:00am | & Health

STICKING to a healthy balanced diet is good advice at any time of life, but becomes even more important as we grow older.

There’s a well-worn phrase that says “you are what you eat”, and like most well-worn phrases it is anchored in truth. If you eat healthy foods you’re more likely to enjoy good health now and into the future – not just physical health, but mental health too. Remember that other phrase – “healthy body, healthy mind”?

While there’s always room for an occasional treat, certain types of food are better for seniors because of the natural nutrition and vitamins they deliver. They’ll help keep you healthy and active for longer and support continued good health even as you begin to slow down. Here are 10 foods and some of the health benefits they can deliver for older people:

  1. Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli and turnip greens are packed with natural nutrients and fibre. If you’re not used to them, it may take a little while for your tastebuds to adapt, but stick with it for the rewards. Several long-term studies have linked regular consumption of these foods with lower levels of age-related cognitive decline.
  2. Eggs are an extremely versatile food which you can eat on their own, as part of a meal or as an ingredient. They are packed with protein and contain choline – a B vitamin which benefits memory and helps with stress management.
  3. Yoghurt, especially ‘Greek Yoghurt’, is full of protein and ‘probiotics’, which might sound like a snazzy marketing term, but actually exist and are good for your gut. They promote healthy digestion to keep your system moving on a regular basis. On top of that, yoghurt is low in harmful sugars and high in calcium, which is good for bone health.
  4. Dark chocolate might be a treat, but one that does you more good than most. It contains antioxidants which can lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of a stroke and help prevent heart attacks. Go for one with a high cocoa solids content and, because it’s still a treat, use it in moderation.
  5. Asparagus is one of nature’s wonder foods, delivering several benefits in one neat and tasty package. It has vitamin A, which boosts the immune system and eye health, is high in fibre to fight cholesterol and boost heart health, and is packed with nutrients including ‘lycopene’, which can protect against prostate cancer.
  6. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes, and there’s ample evidence to back it up. Apples contain soluble fibre which help lower cholesterol and slow the uptake of glucose, making them great for anyone struggling to maintain blood sugar levels. They also provide antioxidants, potassium and vitamin C. If you think you don’t like apples, try a different variety – there are lots out there and they vary considerably in taste and texture.
  7. Cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and halibut have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, making them good for the heart and brain. You can also get these healthy omega-3 acids from nuts, beans, flaxseeds and some healthy oils, but oily fish is one of the best sources.
  8. Berries and dark-skinned fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries are packed with antioxidants which help purge your body of nasty little things called ‘free radicals’. If you want to know exactly what these are, prepare for some in-depth scientific research! Suffice to say, you’re better off without them.
  9. If you can’t live without coffee, you’re in luck! Drinking coffee in moderation can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, heart and respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes and infections. It’s better if you can drink it black and you might want to avoid it later in the day, as it is a stimulant which can prevent quality sleep – another deliverer of positive health benefits.
  10. Shellfish like crab, oysters and scallops are rich in vitamin B12, iron, potassium and magnesium, which are all beneficial for brain function.

Finally, don’t neglect water! While not strictly a foodstuff, it’s vital to good health. Keeping well hydrated will help you gain maximum benefit from many of the foods above, especially those high in fibre. It will also flush your system through and prevent the drowsiness, confusion and possible infections linked to dehydration. Keep a refillable water bottle handy and take regular sips throughout the day, not just when you feel thirsty. You’ll be surprised how much brighter you feel.

As a general rule of thumb, the closer a foodstuff is to its natural unadulterated state, the better it is for you. Highly processed foods or those with lots of additives, preservatives or ‘E numbers’ should be kept to a minimum. How you cook the food also makes a difference – a boiled egg is better than a fried one. Transitioning to a healthier diet can be a gradual process and it can take a while for it to become a permanent lifestyle change, but the sooner you can do it, the more benefits it will bring.

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