by Laura Buxenbaum, MPH, RD, LDN

As we age, we’re searching for anything that will help delay the process in some way- whether it is maintaining glowing skin, keeping our heart pumping strong or preserving bone and muscle strength. While there is no magic potion to delay aging, the good news is that eating the right foods might add years to your life—and life to your years. 

A diet high in nutrient-rich foods that include dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is the anti-aging prescription for glowing skin, a sharper mind, strong bones and a healthy heart. As a Registered Dietitian, I love sharing that the fountain of youth is as close as the refrigerator.  Incorporate these foods into your daily diet to foster healthy aging and improve vitality throughout the years. 

· Fruits and Vegetables:  You have heard it before: eat your fruits and vegetables. Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day is one of the best ways to defend against aging.  Not only are fruits and vegetables low in calories and high in fiber, but they are packed with vitamins A and C, which help maintain healthy skin, eyesight and even boost brain power. Fruits and vegetables are also packed with antioxidants, which protect against cell damage and help prevent chronic diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes.   

Reach for fruits and vegetables that are rich in color – dark green, blue and red.  Berries are a great source of Vitamin C to keep skin smooth and wrinkle free.  Blueberries may reduce the effects of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, help keep vision sharp by protecting our eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.  Studies remain strong that a diet rich in vegetables can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, help prevent heart disease and protect against certain cancers.

Tip:  Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables to ensure they are readily available. 

· Milk, Cheese and Yogurt:  Dairy foods not only taste delicious, but they are packed with high-quality protein and essential anti-aging nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. As we age, muscle mass decreases and with muscle loss comes a decrease in muscle strength, leading to falls and an overall decline in health. One way to support muscle maintenance is to consume high-quality protein foods. These are foods that contain all nine essential amino acids that the body can’t make on its own, including leucine- an amino acid that triggers muscle building and repair.  

In addition, dairy foods also provide nutrients important in bone health including calcium and vitamin D.  As we age, our risk for osteoporosis increases with an estimation that one in two women and one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis in their lifetime. Milk, cheese and yogurt are the main food source of calcium for most people in the US. Enjoying dairy foods throughout the lifespan can help ensure a lifetime of strong bones. 

Tip: Lactose Intolerant?  Try lactose-free milk, which is real dairy milk, minus the lactose.  Reach for yogurt that contains live and active cultures, which help the body digest the lactose and hard cheeses like cheddar, swiss and mozzarella, which are low in lactose. 

· Whole Grains: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the intake of refined (highly processed) grains and increasing whole grains to at least three servings a day. Whole grains are necessary because they contain all the naturally occurring nutrients of the grain seed and are typically higher in nutrients such as fiber, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin E, all key nutrients in maintaining a healthy immune system, forming new cells and carrying oxygen in the blood.  Additionally, whole grains contain dietary fiber, which not only fills us up but also plays a part in lowering risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Hooray for fiber!

Multiple studies have linked the consumption of whole grains to heart health, longevity and decreased risk of heart disease. One study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, reported that eating at least three servings of whole grains every day was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 25 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Tip: For those that are gluten intolerant, there are many whole grain products, such as buckwheat, oatmeal, popcorn, brown and wild rice, and quinoa that can fit into a gluten-free diet. Look for the word “whole” at the beginning of the ingredient list (whole oats, whole wheat flour, whole grain brown rice, etc.) to guarantee you are getting the most nutritious product. 

Healthy aging starts from the inside out.  Filling your shopping cart with nutrient-rich foods, including dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help you lose weight, live longer, and look and feel younger. 

Laura Buxenbaum, MPH, RD, LDN is the Assistant Director of Food and Nutrition Outreach for The Dairy Alliance. She received her Master of Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill and has been working in dietetics for over 15 years. She can be reached at lbuxenbaum@thedairyalliance.com.

Blueberry Flax Overnight Oats

Start your morning with this wholesome and filling age defying recipe that provides whole grains, dairy and antioxidant-rich blueberries in one jar! 

Prep-time: 10 min      Servings: 1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk (can use lactose free milk)
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Instructions

In small bowl or 12-ounce jar, combine first 6 ingredients (milk through cardamom), reserving 1 tablespoon of the chopped almonds for topping, and stir until well combined. Top with blueberries and chopped almonds. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours. Drizzle with honey just before serving.