Anti-aging foods and herbs can help you look and feel naturally young at any age.
Aging is a fact of life, but succumbing to age-related ailments doesn’t have to be. Offering a bevy of antioxidants to ward off disease, nutrients to fight stiffness, and compounds to keep us sharp and energetic, the plant kingdom is brimming with solutions to conditions that can plague us as we age. In this article, we share five of our favorite anti-aging foods and herbs for staying naturally young, plus recipes that make them fun and delicious to use.
Anti-Aging Foods: Turmeric
On many herbalists’ lists of the most important herbs for health, turmeric is one of nature’s most effective anti-inflammatories, making it adept at fighting age-related diseases from arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease. Thousands of studies confirm turmeric’s ability to protect the liver, reduce inflammation and fight infection.
Curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, inhibits the growth of cancer cells in laboratory studies and slows the spread of some cancers in animal studies, according to the American Cancer Society. Studies also suggest curcumin may improve heart health. In a study conducted at Ohio State University, researchers found curcumin helped reduce levels of triglycerides (circulating fats linked with heart disease) and increased levels of nitric oxide, which can help lower blood pressure.
Turmeric may also protect our brains from Alzheimer’s disease. In a clinical trial published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, researchers found a 30 percent reduction in the size of Alzheimer’s-associated brain plaque in treated mice within just one week.
Turmeric is also particularly effective at treating joint conditions such as arthritis. In a recent Italian study, patients with osteoarthritis experienced a 58 percent decrease in overall pain and stiffness as compared with a control group, and were able to reduce reliance on standard painkillers by 63 percent, reports the American Botanical Council.
Along with its ability to fight age-related diseases, turmeric also may help us look younger. In Asia, turmeric is used as a beauty treatment to tighten skin and reduce inflammation. To try it, mix turmeric with flour and milk or water to make a paste, scrub it all over the body, then rinse off in the shower.
Anti-Aging Foods: Ginseng
Ginseng has been used for thousands of years as a health tonic, both by ancient Chinese and American Indian people. Two commonly used species of ginseng are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)—also known as Korean ginseng—and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Both have similar effects, but Asian ginseng is considered more stimulating and is often used as a restorative for the elderly.
In ancient China, ginseng was considered more valuable than gold, and today hundreds of studies support its value. Ginseng is excellent for heart health. Research shows ginseng helps regulate cholesterol and blood sugar, and ginsenosides, the active components in ginseng, reduce platelet aggregation, blood coagulation and blood pressure.
Ginseng also increases endurance, relieves fatigue and enhances immunity. Recent research confirms ginseng’s ability to reduce fatigue among those fighting or recovering from disease. In a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, cancer patients were given either a placebo or 2,000 milligrams of American ginseng. After eight weeks, the patients in the ginseng group saw a 20-point improvement in fatigue as measured on a 100-point scale.
Ginseng can also help keep our minds sharp as we age. It’s been shown to increase blood flow in the brain, protect nerve cells from damage and enhance nerve development, thereby improving memory and learning, according to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Anti-Aging Foods: Carrots
Your mother probably told you to eat your carrots. Well, she probably should have also told you to slather carrots on your skin: Carrots are packed with skin-renewing vitamins, including provitamins A, B and C, which help restore skin’s elasticity. They also have a tautening, “face-lifting” action—as well as being anti-inflammatory and helping to fight off skin infections.
Carrots aren’t a breeze to grow: They like a sandy, free-draining soil, otherwise they create some very interesting shapes through “fanging,” in which the root divides in two. You’ll often hear vegetable garden owners complaining about carrot root fly, or carrot rust fly (which actually can be avoided by covering the carrots with burlap).
For flavor, nothing beats a freshly pulled carrot. And for beauty, the fresher the better, because the vitamin content dwindles when they’re stored for a long time. If you’d rather buy your carrots, make sure they’re organic, and preferably local. Oh, and if you’re trying to quit your caffeine habit, carrot seeds make a pleasant afternoon tea.
Anti-Aging Foods: Kale
Kale boasts one of nature’s most impressive nutrient profiles. At just 35 calories a serving (and delicious in a variety of dishes), kale is one of the easiest ways to add a burst of nutrition to soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fries, salads and more.
The vitamins in kale are adept at fighting the signs and symptoms of aging. One cup contains more than 1,000 percent of our daily recommended value of vitamin K, which promotes bone growth. With nearly 200 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A per cup and high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin, kale is also excellent at preserving eye health and fighting age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin A is also a crucial vitamin for immune function, making kale helpful in fighting off illness and chronic disease. Its high levels of antioxidants make it a potent cancer preventive, too.
If you want to grow your own fresh supply of kale, it’s relatively easy. Kale is hardy, reliable and quick to harvest. Plus, kale loves cold weather and shouldn’t be harvested until after at least one or two hard frosts, making growing kale an excellent way to provide yourself and your family with fresh veggies during winter. Kale prefers full sun and cool, moist soil enriched with compost or organic fertilizer.
Anti-Aging Foods: Good Fats
Healthy fats are essential to our well-being, and they support many functions that help us stay youthful as we age. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which both offer health benefits, are liquid at room temperature. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include vegetable oils, poultry, nuts and seeds.
Essential fatty acids, or omega-3s, are a particular type of polyunsaturated fats. They are called essential because our bodies require them but can’t manufacture them, meaning we must get them from our diets. Omega-3 essential fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA have better established health benefits than ALA, although our bodies partially convert ALA into EPA and DHA once ingested. Good sources of omega-3s include fish, walnuts, flax seeds and fish-oil supplements (most experts believe it is better to obtain omegas through food than through supplements). Grass-fed beef and poultry also contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fats than industrial meat products.
Studies show that omega-3s are beneficial to our cardiovascular health, lowering levels of triglycerides, high levels of which are associated with increased risk of heart disease. Eating fish reduces overall risk of heart attack and stroke. Omega-3s also reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and recent research suggests they may also protect against bone-density loss and osteoporosis.
Healthy fats are also excellent for brain health. Numerous studies confirm essential fatty acids’ ability to reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. But along with preventing major brain disorders, monounsaturated fats may also improve general cognition as we age. In a study of nearly 500 women aged 60 and older, researchers found that the more monounsaturated fats the women consumed, the less their cognition declined over three years. A high intake of good fats was particularly beneficial in terms of memory and the ability to interpret information visually, reports Health in Aging, a resource of the American Geriatrics Society.
Along with keeping us healthier as we age, healthy fats can also keep us looking our best, as they’re vital for maintaining youthful skin and shiny hair. Polyunsaturated fats are particularly important for keeping hair shiny and healthy. Omega-3s help reduce the appearance of dry skin and wrinkles, and research suggests they may also protect against skin cancer.