Beyond giving you energy to conquer a multitasking day, your diet can help slow the tick-tock of the biological clock that governs the aging process.
"The food choices you make are responsible for approximately one-third of your rate of aging," says Michael F. Roizen, M.D., chairman of the department of anesthesiology at the Cleveland Clinic and coauthor of several books on healthy aging, including You: The Owner's Manual. "Routinely choose low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods and you can slow the aging of your arteries; boost your immune system to protect against age-related diseases, such as cancer; and keep your bones strong to reduce accidents and disability, a leading cause of death among the elderly."
Successful aging includes a variety of factors, including 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week and a strong social network, but a healthful diet is an important aspect. The right diet can give you a higher quality of life, more vigor each day and make your physiological age as much as 14 years younger than your calendar age, he says.
To help you stay physiologically young, Dr. Roizen recommends this short-list of "super" foods.
Fruits and vegetables. Depending on your calorie needs, eat 2 ½ to 6 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day and you'll decrease your risk of premature death from all causes.
"In general, produce offers a cornucopia of vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals and fiber," says Dr. Roizen. "You'll get more overall health benefit if you eat as many different kinds of fruits and vegetables as possible."
Fish. "Thirteen ounces of fish per week is what it takes to help keep your arteries young," says Dr. Roizen. "Young arteries are able to dilate and properly oxygenate your blood to meet the demands of your heart as well as other muscles and tissues."
Old arteries are associated with heart disease, stroke, memory loss, the aging of reproductive organs and skin wrinkling. When you choose fish, avoid those species that may be high in mercury. This includes locally caught fish (check with your local department of health) and commercially caught fish, such as tuna, swordfish and shark.
Tomato sauce. Consuming at least 10 tablespoons of tomato sauce or another cooked tomato-based product, such as salsa, each week helps prevent prostate and breast cancer. How?
"The carotenoid lycopene, found in tomatoes when eaten with a little oil, provides an immune-strengthening antioxidant that seems to inhibit growth of prostate- and breast-cancer cells," says Dr. Roizen. "Lycopene may also decrease the risk and growth of other cancers and reduce your risk of heart disease."
Peanuts. They're chock-full of beneficial nutrients, such as protein, fiber, zinc, B vitamins and the antioxidant vitamin E. Peanuts (including peanut butter) also contain mostly unsaturated fat, which lowers both total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Alcohol. In moderation, any alcoholic beverage, from red wine to beer, can help keep your arteries clean.
"Women who have one alcoholic drink a day, and men who have one or two drinks a day, have a younger physiological age," says Dr. Roizen. "However, those who have a family history of alcohol abuse or addiction, shouldn't drink alcohol at all."
One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 to 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Low-fat milk and yogurt are excellent sources of bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin D.
"Healthier bones mean healthier joints and less risk of hip fracture," says Dr. Roizen. "A broken hip is one of the things that can age you the fastest. Just six months of immobility from a broken hip can weaken the body and trigger a chain of aging events, such as a weakened immune system and less-elastic arteries."