My father was a very old man when he died.
Not chronologically. He was only 52—almost 40 years younger than Tony Bennett is, and Tony continues to make records and tour the country performing to this day. But because he was morbidly obese and ate terribly, my father’s old age came at a very young age.
Also, don’t miss: 5 Easy Tips for Losing Weight In Your 40s.
Thanks to him, I’ve spent my life battling the forces of weight gain and aging—both for myself, and for those out there like me who wish to live lives filled with health, youth and the freedom that comes with them.Having a flat belly, a limber body, and a strong heart—not to mention the bright smile, firm skin and full hair that come with youth—will keep you free to pursue your dreams, or to start over in a new life, no matter what your age.
Each of the foods on this list is packed with one or more crucial age-reversing nutrients; not just the vitamins and minerals you’re already aware of, but lesser-known (and utterly crucial) nutrients with names you might not have heard before, including healthy fats, hard-to-find antioxidants like elegiac acid, and youth-preserving compounds like nitric oxide.
And while I can’t guarantee that the foods on this list will have you keeping up with Lady Gaga at age 90, they will certainly keep you looking and feeling vibrant for decades to come.
These slimy shellfish may not be proven to make you feel frisky, but science says they’ll help ward off age-related muscle loss and protect your peepers. In addition to being a great source of muscle-protective protein, oysters are also a prime source of zinc. “This mineral helps convert vitamin A, a vital nutrient for eye health, into a usable form and transport it through blood, says Chip Goehring, Board President of the American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF). “Recent studies also suggest that zinc can slow the progression of macular degeneration,” he adds.
Okinawa, an island off mainland Japan, is home to more centenarians than anywhere else in the world. In fact, about 7 out of every 10,000 citizens live to blow out 100 birthday candles! What do they all have in common? They drink green tea every day—and it’s likely one of the reasons they live so long, say experts. Researchers from the Norwich BioScience Institutes recently discovered that the polyphenols, a type of micronutrient in green tea, blocks something called VEGF, a signaling molecule in the body that triggers plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks, stroke and vascular disease. The life-extending brew may also ward off wrinkles by fighting inflammation and improving the skin’s elasticity, keeping you young both inside and out.
If you couldn’t already tell, we’re big fans of the brew. In fact, we love it so much, we created the The 17-Day Green Tea Diet!
And speaking of anthocyanins, grapes are filled with them, too. In addition to their arthritis-fighting properties, they also help boost collagen in the retina, which protects the eyes against age-related macular degeneration.
Grey hair is beautiful when it’s age-appropriate, but for folks who start to salt-and-pepper before they’ve finished life’s main course, it can make them feel old before their time. One cause of early graying: a lack of copper. A study in the journal Biological Trace Elemental Research found prematurely graying individuals had significantly lower copper levels than a control group. Your body requires copper to produce pigment for your skin and hair, and shiitake mushrooms are one of the best dietary sources. Just a half cup provides 71 percent of your recommended daily intake of copper—and for only 40 calories!
Good news, cheddar lovers: Your favorite food may help you maintain your smile into late life. As we age, our smile tends to lose its shine. Though it’s a hard fate to avoid, you can lessen the appearance of yellowing by keeping your mouth’s pH levels in check. One study in the journal General Dentistry of people who didn’t brush their teeth for 48 hours found snacking on cheddar cheese raised their mouths’ pH to freshly brushed levels. Like cavities, discoloration is increased when you have an acidic environment in your mouth. Plus, compounds in the cheese that adhere to tooth enamel, like a white strip, help to fend off acid.
We know you’ve never had a problem with occasional engine failure, but if you’ve heard it happened to a friend — cough — the reason may be a low level of vitamin B12. A recent report from Harvard University highlighted a study that has linked low levels of B12 to erectile dysfunction. Although an exact causal link hasn’t been determined, the B vitamin is used by every system in the body, particularly in cell metabolism and the production of blood — two essential factors in getting and keeping a quality erection. The boner-boosting bivalves are also high in L-arginine, an amino acid that converts to nitric oxide (NO), the Marvin Gaye of naturally occurring gasses: It causes blood vessels to relax and facilitate blood flow, helping you get and stay hard. In fact, NO is so powerful it’s used medically to treat erectile dysfunction.
Puffy, dark circles under the eyes often become worse with each passing birthday—and being dehydrated make matters even worse. Salty foods, alcohol, hot weather and not drinking enough water can strip your body of moisture and create inflammation, which results in the Rocket Raccoon complexion. To replenish your body, cut up some citrus fruits (rind included), soak them in a pitcher of ice water and drink copiously. The citrus not only improves the water’s flavor, but the rinds contain a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called de-limonene, which helps the liver flush toxins from the body, according to the World Health Organization.
Among those 65 and older, one out of five falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though you’ve likely heard that sipping milk can help keep your bones strong and healthy, so can grapefruit juice, say Texas A&M University researchers. Studies show that the juice can improve bone density and slow the rate of bone loss. Juice a fresh grapefruit or eat one whole to reap the benefits.
Packed with bone-building calcium and skeletal-strengthening vitamin D, sardines are an oft-overlooked way to prevent osteoporosis and keep your body strong for life. Though they aren’t exactly easy to stomach, they’re one of the best sources of dairy-free calcium out there.
Look for varieties canned with the bones, which are soft and completely edible. Sorry, that’s non-negotiable. The bones are where all the calcium comes from! So although it may seem hard to swallow, this is the variety you’ve got to consume if you want to reap the benefits. Toss the fish into a bed of leafy greens with tomato, cucumber, olives, feta and red wine vinegar. The combo makes for a tasty, Mediterranean-inspired dish.
Of all the nuts at the bar to go home with, which will prove best for your ticker? The walnut, researchers say. Ironically, or perhaps Mother Nature’s way of giving us a hint, heart-shaped walnuts are brimming in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease—an umbrella term that refers to a number of deadly complications including heart attack and stroke. The most comprehensive review of clinical trials on nut consumption in relation to cardiovascular disease showed consuming just one ounce of walnuts five or more times a week—about a handful every day—can slash heart disease risk by nearly 40 percent.
More than five million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease—a number that’s expected to nearly triple by 2050 if there are no significant medical breakthroughs, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There’s a genetic basis to Alzheimer’s, and if the disease runs in your family, it’s especially important to make changes to your lifestyle to minimize your risk. Just adding more blueberries to your diet can help. Rich in antioxidants that give them their purple or deep red color, the berries protect cells from damage by changing the way neurons in the brain communicate and reducing the accumulation of protein clumps most frequently seen in Alzheimer’s. In one study, older adults who supplemented with blueberry juice for just 12 weeks scored higher on memory tests than those receiving a placebo. Researchers have found the same thing in animals: Those fed blueberries experience significantly less brain cell loss when exposed to oxidative stress like that experienced by people suffering a neurodegenerative disease.
Living a high-stress life is a good recipe for aging. Aside from making you look older (hello, facial wrinkles), stress can make you feel older by zapping your energy levels. Chronic stress also increases the odds you’ll develop an illness that can further speed the aging process. To counteract the stress-pumping cortisol, make yourself a cup of rooibos tea. The plant is rich in a flavonoid called Aspalathin that’s been shown to reduce stress hormones that trigger hunger and fat storage and are linked to hypertension, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The drink is also a good source of polyphenols that help protect the skin from premature aging.
Not only will swapping refined grains like white bread and pasta for whole grains help you trim down, giving you a more youthful figure, it will help keep your skin looking younger. Refined grains cause blood sugar to soar, which speeds up the formation of wrinkles. How? When you eat a refined carbohydrate, the body converts the sugar to glucose, a nutrient that damages collagen and other wrinkle-fighting protein.
It may be green and leafy, but spinach is no nutritional wallflower. This noted muscle builder is a rich source of plant-based omega-3s and folate, which help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. Bonus: Folate also increases blood flow to the nether regions, helping to protect you against age-related sexual issues. Aim for 1 cup fresh spinach or 1/2 cup cooked per day.
As we age, it’s common for the skin to lose its natural golden glow. Thankfully, though, it’s possible to regain your youthful luster without exposing your skin to UV rays. In fact, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to create a healthier, and more attractive, golden glow than the sun, according to a Journal Evolution and Human Behaviour study. Researchers found that people who ate more portions of red and orange fruits and vegetables per day had a more sun-kissed complexion than those who didn’t consume as much—the result of disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids that give those plants their colors. Few foods are as rich in the beauty stuff than sweet potatoes; just half a medium potato with the skin provides 200 percent of your daily recommended intake.
New research has found that the reason melanoma rates are so low in regions like the Mediterranean—where going topless on the beach is all part of the summertime fun—has to do with the Mediterranean diet. Foods high in antioxidants, particularly deeply colored fruits and vegetables, can help fight the oxidizing effect of UV rays. One study in the British Journal of Dermatology found participants who ate five tablespoons of tomato paste (a highly concentrated form of fresh tomatoes) daily showed 33 percent more protection against sunburn than a control group. And tomatoes work double duty to boost beauty: While the carotenoids and antioxidants help the body fight off oxidation that ages skin cells, they also boost pro-collagen—a molecule that gives skin its taut, youthful structure.
Various cultures claim yogurt as their own creation, but the 2,000-year-old food’s health benefits are not disputed: Fermentation spawns hundreds of millions of probiotic organisms that serve as reinforcements to the battalions of beneficial bacteria in your body. That helps boost your immune system and provides protection against cancer. Not all yogurts are probiotic, though, so make sure the label says “live and active cultures.” Aim for 1 cup of the calcium and protein-rich goop a day.
Most red, yellow, or orange vegetables and fruits are spiked with carotenoids—fat-soluble compounds that are associated with a reduction in a wide range of cancers, as well as reduced risk and severity of inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis—but none are as easy to prepare, or have as low a caloric density, as carrots. Aim for 1/2 cup a day.
If you or your partner have ever suffered from erectile dysfunction (a common side effect of aging), try adding this “natural Viagra” to your shopping list. The powerful antioxidant agents in pomegranate arils and juice can help reverse oxidative damage to the vascular system, according to researchers. This condition—what nutritionist Oz Garcia, Ph.D., calls “natural rusting”—plays a major role in the ability to achieve and maintain erections. Perhaps this is why some theologians believe the pomegranate—and not the apple—was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
There aren’t many things that are a better choice for on-the-go snacking than apples. One medium-size fruit is packed with four grams of soluble fiber—17 percent of the Daily Value (DV). “This is important for colon health and controlling blood sugar levels,” says Elson Haas, M.D., author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Bonus: Red apples also contain a compound called quercetin that may keep arthritis and its associated pain at bay.
Fatty fish, like tuna, wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that have been proven to lower overall mortality risk by up to 27 percent and decrease the odds of dying from heart disease by about 35 percent. They also offer many anti-aging benefits. Eating a few servings of fatty fish each week have been shown to help guard against Alzheimer’s disease and help reduce joint pain and stiffness by suppressing the production of enzymes that erode cartilage.
If going up and down the stairs isn’t as easy as it once was, or your back is always a little bit achy, it’s likely due to inflammation. In fact, most age-related diseases (like obesity, heart disease, and cancer) and discomforts are the result of inflammation. To ease your aches and pains, add tart cherries to your diet. They’re a good source of anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds that block inflammation-causing enzymes.
Vitamin D Fortified
Though there are many sources of bone-strengthening calcium, none are as easy for the body to absorb as vitamin-D fortified dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. (The vitamin D helps the body use the calcium). Aim for three servings a day to ward off osteoporosis and brittle bones later in life.
Getting older can be a pain—literally. As we age, the aches and pains in our joints become all the more common. But thankfully, eating this delicious fruit can help. Blackberries contain antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins that fight inflammation. They’re also a good source of ellagic acid, another antioxidant that helps fight inflammation which exacerbates joint pain.
Thanks for their high vitamin K content, noshing on leafy vegetables like kale, collards and mustard greens can help ward slow cognitive decline, according to new research that reviewed the diets of nearly 1,000 participants. In fact, the researchers discovered that people who ate one to two servings of the greens daily had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none.