It seems to go without saying, but the foods you eat, much like the gas you put in your Hummer, have a huge impact on your body’s performance. Given this – and the fact that we’re basically on a slow decline to death from the moment we’re born – you’d think we’d care more about what goes into our mouths. Instead, we gorge ourselves on fast food and spend thousands of dollars on anti-aging “miracle” treatments that claim to undo the years of damaged we’ve inflicted on ourselves by ingesting things we can’t even pronounce. 

There are plenty of foods, however, that can nourish you and help keep age-related demons like cancer, dementia and osteoporosis at bay. They’ll also whittle your waistline, which is something that study after study shows increases longevity and improves overall health. Excess weight contributes to a whole host of life-shortening problems; a joint study between the National Institute on Aging (Bethesda, MD), the National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (Bilthoven, Netherlands) and the National Center for Health Statistics (Hyattsville, MD) concluded that “heavier weight in late middle age [is] a risk factor for coronary heart disease in late life,” and the American Cancer Society estimates that excess weight is linked to more than 90,000 deaths annually. 

Ready to age gracefully? Read on to find out which foods you should add to your diet in order to add years to your life.

Garlic

Once thought only to be useful in warding off vampires and unattractive blind dates, garlic has turned out to be a nutritional superstar that adds a wealth of taste to dishes without adding excess calories. Allicin, which is responsible for garlic’s strong smell and biting flavor, is actually an extremely potent antioxidant, and research published by the National Academy of Sciences shows that eating garlic appears to boost the body’s natural supply of hydrogen sulfide, which is manufactured by the body as an antioxidant and means of transmitting cellular signals that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. Dr. David W. Kraus, associate professor of environmental science and biology at the University of Alabama and author of a large-scale study on the health benefits of garlic, advises crushing garlic and letting it sit for 15 minutes before cooking it in order to trigger a reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in the plant.

Eggs

The war on fat and cholesterol left eggs severely wounded but not entirely beaten (pun very much intended); although experts used to believe egg yolks were extremely unhealthy, they’ve now revised their assertions to recognize the benefits of the nine essential amino acids and six grams of healthy protein contained in one egg. Eggs also contain lutein (helpful in the prevention of macular degeneration), zeaxanthin (similarly good for your eyes and possibly helpful in preventing cataracts), and choline (important in the regulation of the brain, nervous and cardiovascular systems); they’re also one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring Vitamin D, which was recognized as vital in a report by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health earlier this year. And, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, there is no real link between egg consumption and heart disease. The link between Hollandaise sauce and butt flab is well-documented, however, so please. Ease up on the Benedict.

Blueberries

According to a study conducted by Tufts University, the pigments, or anthocyanins, in blueberries appear to be an antidote to oxidative stress, one of the main components of the aging process. They also help your brain produce dopamine, which is critical to happiness, memory and coordination. Tufts researchers found that ½-cup of blueberries daily effectively reversed declining memory and loss of coordination in laboratory rats. Frozen blueberries make a great addition to protein shakes or yogurt, and fresh berries are delicious as an alternative to the sugary candy that will make you fat and probably kill you.

Leafy Greens

Spinach and kale – the stuff that made you gag when you were younger but also made Popeye strong enough to fight dudes three times his size – are full of antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds like sulforaphane, beta carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. Spinach is also loaded with folate, which was shown by an Australian study published by the Journal of Nutrition to dramatically improve short-term memory. Greens are a great thickener for soups and smoothies, but they’re also far more delicious than you remember when sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper.

Broccoli

Another dark-green, antioxidant-rich veggie, broccoli is part of the Cruciferous family of plants that aids the body in fighting against toxins and many forms of cancer. Several nutritional experts believe that eating broccoli raw or steamed helps to preserve important enzymes that are lost in the cooking process, but any broccoli is good broccoli when it comes to its overall health benefits. Broccoli is also a plant source of calcium, which can help prevent osteoporosis later in life and aid in the body’s absorption of Vitamin D.

Salmon

You’ve probably heard by now that oily fish like salmon and tuna help to prevent heart disease by keeping arteries lubricated, but salmon is also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which, according to omega-3 expert Stephen Cunane, Ph.D., are essential to brain development and health. In fact, Alzheimer’s rates in different countries are consistent with the amount of fish present in the average citizen’s diet. Omega-3’s are also known to aid in weight loss, improve mood and help soothe certain skin conditions. Be mindful of where your fish comes from, though: wild salmon get their adorable pink color from eating krill and shrimp, but farmed salmon are fed food coloring to achieve the same hue. Wild Atlantic Salmon is currently thought to be the safest salmon option.

Beets

Doug was right; beets really are nature’s candy. They’re surprisingly sweet, especially considering their low calorie content (approximately 22/beet), and they contain folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins. Preliminary research demonstrates that Betanin, an antioxidant found in the vegetable, could play a significant role in the prevention of heart disease by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Animal studies also show that eating beets significantly slows the growth of skin and lung cancers, so these babies are poised to become disease-fighting superstars in the not-so-distant future.

Flaxseed

Just like salmon, flaxseeds are chock-full of Omega-3 fatty acids (and happen to be one of the few plant sources of that provide the nutrient). Being plants, they also contain several phytoestrogens (as the name suggests, plant estrogen that mimics the healthful effects of estrogen in the body), one of which is lignin, now thought to improve cholesterol, as well as easily absorbed plant protein. Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil can be added to everything from oatmeal to pasta dishes in lieu of fattier and more expensive fish.

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