Live Long & Eat Well

Photography by: Yunhee Kim
Live Long & Eat Well

IT WAS HEADLINE NEWS: Researchers determined that an ultra-low-calorie diet could prolong life by 40 percent or more. Of course, there was a downside. The participants were rats and cranky rats at that. Apparently, these long-lived, half-starved rodents bit anyone who tried to hold them, unlike their sated siblings. Who could blame them? Would you want to cut your calorie intake to the bone?

Before you bother trying, it turns out the cost-to-benefit ratio is a bit more conservative for human beings. University of California researchers recently concluded that a lifetime of severe calorie restriction would probably prolong a human life span by only 3 percent to 7 percent. Are we going to wake up and rejoice that were alive for one more day when we only get to eat bean sprouts and brown rice? asks Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition and assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University in University Park.

A wiser, happier way to slow the aging process is to adopt a diet filled with nutrients and enjoyment. Eating well is one of life's great pleasures and done appropriately, it offers the rewards of a longer life. Here are seven principles, and seven accompanying recipes, to help you eat better, longer.

1. Choose Organic
Buy whole organic foods as close to their original form as possible, says Luise Light, M.Ed., Ed.D., adjunct professor at Keene State College in Keene, N.H., and author of What to Eat. The food tastes better, stays fresher longer, and tends to have higher levels of nutrients than commercially grown foods from soils and plants heavily treated with pesticides, she notes. Look for the USDA stamp certifying the food is organic, which means its been grown without synthetic chemical pesticides. If cost is an issue, consider joining an organic food co-op.

2. Pack In The Antioxidants
The antioxidant compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and herbs help prevent cell damage and reduce inflammation, which is the key to delaying aging and reducing vulnerability to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Studies at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston indicate that foods particularly high in antioxidants like spinach, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries may help prevent long-term memory loss and protect learning ability, as well as guard capillaries from oxygen damage. Prunes, raisins, kale, and Brussels and alfalfa sprouts also get top ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scores, which measure the antioxidant power of foods. And although they get little notice, many herbs are as full of antioxidants as fruits and vegetables, reports the Agricultural Research Service Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. Oregano tops the list, but other high achievers include bay leaves, dill, savory, and coriander.

3. Calculate Your Calcium
Both men and women lose about .4 percent of their bone mass each year after age 30. But women lose an additional 1 percent to 2 percent of bone mass annually for five to eight years after menopause. To protect yourself, up your intake of calcium-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, beans, and whole grains, and get plenty of vitamin D. Dairy products are loaded with calcium, but pick organic, lower-fat versions like skim or 1 percent milk, says geriatrician Harrison G. Bloom, M.D., senior associate and director of the Clinical Educational Consultation Service in New York City. Women, in particular, need to supplement with 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams a day of calcium, plus 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin D.