Life is all about relationships from the moment we’re born to our last breath. One important relationship to pay attention to is our relationship with food. As we get older, this takes on particular importance for our aging process. How we nourish ourselves makes a big difference in our health and with all the discussion about healthcare in the political arena, one could get the idea that doctors and tests and diagnoses are the most important factors in our health. NOT! While we need good care and treatments, we need to pay attention to our day to day health habits far more than we usually do. So consider this.
“Aging is a normal process. You can’t prevent it, but you can slow it down, and that’s where diet comes in.”
– Nicholas D. Gillitt, PhD, nutrition researcher
Research on fruits and vegetables provides clues about how to eat to live longer and more healthfully. Some 80% of adults over the age of 65 are diagnosed with at least one chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, and 50% have at least two of these ailments. At the same time, nearly 90% of all Americans do not eat the 31/2 to 61/2 cups of fruits and vegetables recommended daily by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Phytonutrients give fruits and vegetables their color and flavor. For example, the red in tomatoes comes from a phytonutrient called lycopene. Likewise, the sulfurlike flavor and aroma of broccoli is due to the presence of the phytonutrient sulforaphane. Researchers are finding that many of the phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables can both protect against and repair damage to the body’s cells.
Onions and apples are rich in quercetin, an antioxidant that may be even more powerful than vitamin C in preserving brain cells. The anthocyanins found in grapes, berries, and cherries also may help preserve memory. Spinach, romaine, and other leafy greens contain antioxidants like lutein, which fight age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in those over 60.
Rush University researchers who collected dietary data from 3,718 adults aged 65 and older and administered memory tests over the course of six years found that those who ate more than 2 cups of vegetables daily had a 38% decrease in the rate of mental deterioration compared with those who ate less than 1/2 cup of vegetables per day.
What fruits and vegetables are best? “Since there are hundreds and thousands of phytonutrients in various plant foods, it’s important to eat a variety on a daily basis,” says Gillitt. One delightful summer strategy is to “eat a rainbow!” Eating a colorful plate of food is a nearly perfect way to provide your body and soul with all the essential vitamins and nutrients-including the antioxidants, phytonutrients, carotenoids, flavonoids, and others. The colors of the vegetables actually have significant meaning and identifying foods by their colors is an easy way to make sure that you are getting the variety you need in your diet. Here’s a simple guide and try these healthful summer treats:
Red – Watermelon (contains lycopine & citrulline)
Orange – Peaches (contain beta carotene & vitamins A & C)
Green and White – Cucumbers (contain cucurbatacins & lignans)
Deep Green – Parsley and Chard (contains luteolin & vitamin C)
Blue and Purple – Blueberries (contain anthocyanins & vitamin C)
Complete the meal with a protein source such as fish, beans, and/or nuts (which may also be colorful too!)
Acclaimed food writer Michael Pollan sums up the collected research in just seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And for all of us longevity fans, experienced foodie Rene Loux writing in Spirituality & Health (July/August 2012) adds the following to Mr. Pollan’s maxim, “Chew well, dine in good company, and enjoy every bite!” And our addition is “Be grateful, and nourish yourself with Love. Happy healthful eating every day!!
Steve Kilkus has been a nurse educator for over 30 years. Suzanne Kilkus is a holistic counselor, coach, and relationship therapist with over 30 year experience. Together they have created courses and seminars in holistic health, conscious relationship and living every year as the best year.