When it comes to staying healthy and aging well, there are so many things we need to consider. We have to exercise, maintain a good mental attitude, get enough sleep, engage in healthy relationships, take care of our skin and, of course, near the top of the list of factors that contribute to great health is good nutrition.
What “good nutrition” is, however, can be confusing. Ideas about nutrition have changed over the years. Two decades ago, we were told it was healthy to eat a “low-fat” diet. Unfortunately, in an effort to reduce unhealthy fats, people began eating low-fat processed foods. We didn’t realize then that many of those low-fat foods were laden with extra sugar. Nor did we understand the dangers of excess sugar. We know now that something we thought was good for us has contributed to health problems.
Over the past couple years, I’ve been researching the latest books and articles on nutrition. What’s touted consistently now is a diet of whole, unprocessed foods that discourage inflammation. The anti-inflammatory diet is what seems to have the most health and beauty benefits.
Dr. Oz, Dr. Howard Murad, author of The Water Secret and Dr. Jessica Wu, author of Feed Your Face, and several other doctors writing in the field of health and beauty all agree that inflammation is one of the worst offenders. They say that we promote inflammation when we eat foods that are too high on the glycemic index. And what kinds of foods are those? Foods that are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. An anti-inflammatory diet will help to keep blood sugar levels in check, keep the skin young, and be a boon to overall health.
Here’s a list of foods synthesized from a variety of sources. Most of these are recommended by a number of specialists in the field of anti-aging. What’s great is that foods that help us stay young-looking also help us stay healthy.
Eggs. In an article in Time magazine from September of 2011 written by Dr. Oz, eggs were among the foods “vindicated,” and now considered to be part of a healthy diet. Previously thought to be detrimental because of their cholesterol content, in moderation, eggs are great because they’re nutrient dense, provide high quality protein and are not high in calories. Another doctor, Howard Murad, recommends that women eat eggs to combat “hormonal aging.” He says that eggs and other embryonic foods (seeds and beans) help women preserve optimum estrogen levels naturally.
Leafy greens. Spinach, kale, collards, romaine lettuce, etc. provide vitamin C, vitamin E, and Lutein, a nutrient that contributes to healthy, great looking skin.
Broccoli. Low in calories, and high in fiber, broccoli is a powerhouse of nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K, B6, folate and surprisingly, calcium.
Sweet potatoes. A good choice when you need complex carbohydrates. Rich in vitamin A, which is great for the skin and the eyes, the sweet potato is high in antioxidants (including beta-carotene), has cancer fighting abilities, and its vitamins can help boost your immune system. High in fiber, it’s an excellent addition to the diet if you’re looking to burn fat.
Mushrooms. According to Dr. Howard Murad, author of The Water Secret, Mushrooms are full of vitamins and have strong antioxidant properties and may inhibit tumor growth. Mushrooms also help prevent breakdown of collagen and elastin, helping your skin to stay firm and plump.
Tomatoes. Dr. Jessica Wu, a Beverly Hills dermatologist calls tomatoes “a skin superstar.” High in lycopene, they help protect the skin from sun damage. Eating plenty of tomatoes can help prevent wrinkles, age spots and inflammation.
Apples. They contain Phloretin, a powerful antioxidant. Phloretin neutralizes a large number of free radicals (which contribute to aging) and reduces inflammation and hyper-pigmentation.
Blueberries. Low in calories and virtually fat-free, blueberries are full of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. These are on Dr. Oz’s “anti-aging” checklist and some studies have shown that blueberries are beneficial for the brain and can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Almonds. They contain copper, selenium, zinc, healthy monounsaturated fats, and fiber. Eat them, but in moderation, due to their high caloric content. According to Dr. Wu, almonds can help in the battle against gray hair, because eating almonds has been shown to increase the levels of catalase in the body. Catalase is an enzyme that neutralizes natural peroxide. When our scalp stops making catalase on its own, our hair begins to loose its pigment.
Walnuts. Loaded with omega 3 fats, walnuts are good for the skin. They’re a good source of phosphorus, zinc, copper and thiamin. Yes, they’re high in calories, but a handful of nuts a day can actually benefit weight loss, because they can curb the appetite. Also, the fiber in nuts helps prevent the absorption of some of the calories.
Plain yogurt. The culturing process makes yogurt easier to digest than milk, so it’s a good source of calcium if you’re lactose intolerant. Yogurt contributes to colon health because of its intestine-friendly bacterial cultures, which lower the risk of colon disease.
Be wary of “non-fat” milk and yogurt. According to Dr. Oz, “When you remove all the fat from whole milk, you’re left with too high a concentration of natural sugars, which interacts like candy with your hormones, especially insulin.”
I was curious about this, and so began paying attention at the grocery store. When I looked at labels on regular plain yogurt, sure enough, the non-fat variety had a higher number of sugars. I now opt for low-fat, rather than non-fat. Some non-fat Greek yogurts did NOT have high sugar contents, so those are a good choice.
FYI, fat free foods often have added sugar to make up for the reduction in fat and good taste. Dr. Alan Lustig gave a lecture on the dangers of sugar and he credited the proliferation of low-fat foods in the American diet with higher levels of obesity and diabetes. According to Lustig it is not the fat that’s makes us fat and sick, it’s the sugar.
Salmon. Rich in omega-3s, salmon is recommended by many anti-aging specialists. Dr. Nicolas Perricone, author of The Wrinkle Cure says that eating salmon will keep your skin looking younger longer. Eating salmon helps reduce inflammation and can also help prevent heart disease, due to its high omega 3 content.
Red wine. (in Moderation, no more than 2 glasses a day) thought to raise good cholesterol and reduce the bad kind, as well as protect arteries against cholesterol-related damage. You may have heard of the benefits of Resveratrol, which red wine contains. However, according to Dr. Oz, you’d have to drink 60 liters to get the full benefits. Still, if you’re going to drink alcohol, red wine is the best choice for your health. White wine doesn’t contain resveratrol.
Dark chocolate. Eat dark chocolate in moderation (meaning no more than one oz. a day or every few days) and reap the benefits of its antioxidant content and high concentration of flavanols. Dr. Wu says that dark chocolate consumption can promote better circulation, improved skin hydration, and can help the skin resist the signs of sun damage.
Olive Oil. This is a “healthy fat” which, according to Dr. Murad will feed your brain, skin, and your cellular membranes. It’s one of the essential fatty acids that helps keep us hydrated, supple, youthful and beautiful.
Coconut oil. Another healthy fat. Previously thought to raise cholesterol, recent studies have proven that coconut oil raises the good cholesterol, while keeping bad cholesterol in check. Also, there’s new evidence that suggests coconut oil is salutary for the brain and can guard against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Green tea. An excellent source of antioxidants, in particular Epigallocatechin gallate, green tea is one of the best things you can drink for health and anti-aging. It helps enhance the skin’s ability to fight sun damage. It also fights inflammation.
Oatmeal. Filling and high in fiber, oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate that can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Just be sure to eat the kind without added sugar and chemicals. You can add your own nuts, and/or fruit to make it taste good. Even if you add a sweetener, better to be able to control the amount you use, rather than consume all the extra sugar in pre-packaged brands.
Quinoa. Quinoa tastes and acts like a grain, but it’s actually a seed. It’s high in antioxidants, fiber and protein (it contains all the amino acids), and low in calories.
Of course there are many more healthy foods than those on this list, but these are the foods on the lists of a number of doctors specializing in anti-aging, and health & beauty.
A Few Foods You Should NOT Be Eating or Drinking and Why:
White bread, donuts, cookies, pastries, cakes and sugary cereals. These high glycemic foods contain trans fats and sugar, which contribute to inflammation.
According to Dr. David J Goldberg, author of Light Years Younger, these foods all contain “high-glycemic” carbohydrates, which flood the body with glucose molecules minutes after they are eaten. All these foods have been linked to decreased insulin sensitivity, which means they impair the body’s most important glucose regulating mechanism. To save your skin, favor foods low on the glycemic index.
Sodas. (Diet or regular.) Both regular and diet sodas pose health risks. A recent study showed that regular soda contributed to hard to detect fats in the organs, particularly in the liver. And the artificial sweeteners and dyes in diet soda have been linked to brain cell damage. Sodas also cause the body to draw calcium from the bones, contributing to osteoporosis.
Sugar. Processed sugar doesn’t contribute to good nutrition and too much of it can be harmful. Aside from contributing to weight gain and diabetes, excess sugar ages the skin via a process called glycation wherein harmful sugar molecules attach to the collagen and elastin in the skin and make it rigid. These molecules build up and eventually cause wrinkles. Sugar also contributes to more health issues than were previously understood. According to Dr. Alan Lustig, who gave the famed lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, sugar should be deemed a toxin. Fruit, which is high in natural sugar is okay, because it contains fiber which helps keep it from spiking the blood sugar level, but juice, with all the fiber removed, is less beneficial.
Low glycemic carbs include: oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, soybeans, lentils.
High glycemic carbs (which should be avoided) include white flour, white bread, white pasta , corn, corn chips, cornflakes, processed cereals with sugar, white rice.
Low glycemic vegetables include: yams, green beans, cabbage, leafy greens, avocado, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli.
High glycemic vegetables include: white potatoes, carrots and parsnips.
Low glycemic fruits include: apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, melon, kiwi, blueberries.
High glycemic fruits include: fruit juices, bananas, mangoes and papayas.
There you have it: to eat and not to eat. It’s a lot to consider, but hopefully knowing the benefits and risks of you options can help you make good decisions about what you put in your body.
As always, wishing you good health and great beauty.
Toni Ann Johnson is the author of Vibrating Youth, available on Amazon.com as an ebook and in paperback. Follow Vibrating Youth on Twitter and Facebook.