As we age, some of us may not be all that happy with what we see in the mirror. Stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and pollution – all contribute to the ageing process. We're all growing older on a daily basis, not much we can do about that! However. the rate we age metabolically varies widely from person to person.
While some areas of our life can be difficult to control (air pollution for example), we can take charge of the food we eat. By making simple changes to our diet, it's possible to slow down the rate we age as well as delaying or preventing the onset of many serious diseases.
A diet containing a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains is known to improve overall health, but some foods provide even greater benefits than others. These are often referred to as superfoods.
What are superfoods?
Superfoods are so called because they're rich in antioxidants, the chemicals that help the body fight illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes and other conditions associated with ageing. By consuming a wide range of superfoods, you'll be maximising their benefits which can help increase your potential lifespan.
All fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants. However, some can be considered superfoods because they contain a greater concentration of health boosting nutrients so may be more beneficial for a longer life than others.
Yes, an apple a day, really can keep the doctor away. The Red Delicious variety of apple contains the highest concentration of polyphenols, a major cancer-fighting antioxidant. But don't peel off the skin as this is where majority of these polyphenols are to be found.
Blueberries have one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants in the berry family. Researchers have found they can improve short-term memory loss and enhance balance and co-ordination, leading them to look at the role blueberries may have in preventing Alzheimer's Disease.
Blackberries are surprisingly rich in vitamin E, which can help prevent damage to the arteries and is vital for a healthy heart and circulatory system.
Strawberries have anti-inflammatory properties that work by blocking the enzymes responsible for causing inflammation in the body. They can also help control type II diabetes by reducing blood glucose levels.
Broccoli contains some of the biggest weapons against cancer, particularly breast and ovarian. It's rich in the nutrients that help break down and eliminate potentially cancer causing chemicals in our body before they have a chance to develop into cancer.
It's also a good source of calcium, with one cup providing 10% of our daily requirements. And weight for weight, broccoli contains more vitamin C than an orange.
The humble tomato should feature prominently on your weekly menu with more health giving properties than almost any other single food. They're a good source of beta-carotene, a natural anti-ageing ingredient that blocks the free-radicals that can lead to premature aging. Importantly, tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may help protect against breast, cervical, skin, lung, colon, bladder and pancreatic cancers.
Studies have also shown that a diet rich in lycopene can help lower cholesterol levels. And if that isn't enough, it may protect against sunburn as well as boosting collagen production, helping to keep skin looking youthful.
The body can more readily absorb the health giving properties of lycopene when tomatoes have been cooked and eaten with a healthy fat such as olive oil. This also includes tomato-based foods such as ketchup, tomato juice and tomato puree.
Although nuts are high in calories, they're also an excellent source of antioxidants. They contain good levels of vitamin E and calcium, essential for healthy skin and maintaining bones and teeth.
Hazelnuts have one of the highest levels of monounsaturated fats which have been shown to lower cholesterol. They also contain an amino acid which can widen blood vessels and help improve blood flow. Eating just 1.5 oz of hazelnuts per day can lower the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, researchers have discovered that hazelnuts contain the chemical paclitaxel, an ingredient used in drugs to treat ovarian and breast cancers.
Walnuts contain a form of vitamin E particularly beneficial in fighting breast and lung cancer. They may also improve insulin resistance for people suffering from type II diabetes.
Eating a bowl of porridge every day can help protect against heart attacks according to a study published in the British Food Journal. It was found that regular consumption of oats reduced bad cholesterol levels by up to 17%.
As well as lowering cholesterol levels, oats are high in fibre, essential for good bowel health. Highest rates for bowel cancer worldwide are seen in Europe, North America and Australasia, with a low fibre diet cited as one of the main causes of this disease.
If you don't like porridge, a bowl of muesli, oat cakes or a couple of slices of oat-flour bread is sufficient.
Salmon really is a wonderfood. Not only is it an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals, it provides high levels of the essential fatty acid, omega-3. Omega-3 helps keep our brains in top condition as well as cutting the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
A diet rich in omega-3 may also contribute to younger looking skin. According to U.S. dermatologist, Dr Nicholas Perricone, a diet rich in salmon can help us look younger by smoothing out wrinkles. He believes the essential fatty acids can stimulate nerve function and "plump out" skin. Aim to eat at least 1-2 portions of organic salmon per week.
It's no coincidence that the Chinese and Japanese, who have some of the longest life expectancy's in the world, also drink a lot of tea. Tea, both green and black, contains high levels of polyphenols, those major antioxidants. And drinking your tea with milk won't reduce their benefits.
A study at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, 2009, found that women under 50, drinking moderately high levels of tea had a 37% less chance of developing breast cancer. Further studies have shown that older women who drank tea had a greater bone density than those who didn't which may prove beneficial against osteoporosis.
In another study, Chinese researchers found that "habitual tea consumption is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death, "going on to say, "Habitual tea consumption was associated with more healthy years of life and longer life expectancy."
And finally, not drinking enough can lead to dehydration which in turn, can have a noticeable effect on your skin. In fact, one of the most common signs of dehydration is loss of skin tone or loose, wrinkled skin.
In order to keep your skin well-hydrated and plumper-looking, try drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. You can include other liquids as part of your eight glasses (but not alcohol). Remember, the majority of fruit and vegetables contain a high volume of water and these can all play a part in keeping you hydrated.
So give yourself a fighting chance against the elements of time. By including some or all of these superfoods in your weekly diet you'll soon be reaping the benefits. You'll feel healthier, have more energy and feel satisfied you're providing your body with the best possible nutrients for maximising your potential lifespan, and feeling and looking younger than your age along the way.