Growing older increases the risk of a variety of health problems, but as Karen Fittall discovers, there’s an easy way to fight back – and it’s with food!
Statistics say: One in seven Australians over 50 has it, jumping to one in three by age 75.
Sidestep it: By eating dark-green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. They’re the best dietary source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that help prevent chronic eye diseases, including macular degeneration. Both nutrients are types of carotenoid that have an antioxidant action in the eye, filtering out the wavelengths of light that cause chemical damage to the eye’s cells.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: To get the biggest hit of both nutrients from your greens, cook them first. One cup of cooked spinach contains 436 per cent more lutein and zeaxanthin than the same serve of raw spinach
Statistics say: Age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer, with more than 75 per cent of cases occurring in women 50 years and over.
Sidestep it: By increasing how many tomato products you eat. When a group of women ate tomatoes and tomato-based products daily for 10 weeks in a US study, their levels of adiponectin increased by nine per cent. Adiponectin is a hormone that regulates blood-sugar and fat levels, and higher levels of it have been linked with a reduced risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: The effect is due to tomatoes’ lycopene content – the women in the study consumed at least 25mg of it each day. About 500ml of tomato juice or 50g of tomato paste both provide about 25mg.
Statistics Say: Growing older is the biggest factor that increases the risk for most people, and 90 per cent of bowel cancers occur in people aged 50 years and over.
Sidestep it: By eating lentils, chickpeas and beans. A US study found by including more pulses in the diet, people reduced their risk of colon polyps, the small growths most bowel cancers develop from, by 33 per cent. The scientists say the protection is provided by the legumes’ fibre content, which ‘dilutes’ potential carcinogens. Adding cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, which contain detoxifying compounds, is said to enhance the benefits.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: Eat a serve of legumes at least three times a week to enjoy the protective effect.
Statistics say: Loss of bone density accelerates after the menopause so that one in two Australian women is living with osteoporosis after the age of 60.
Sidestep it: By eating prunes. When US scientists tested the theory on a group of postmenopausal women, at the end of the 12-month study those who’d eaten prunes daily had signifi cantly higher bone mineral density. The researchers say it’s because prunes suppress the rate of ‘bone resorption’, the breakdown of bone that tends to exceed the rate of new bone growth as we age.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: Eat 10 prunes a day to enjoy the bone-boosting benefit.
Statistics say: That after the age of 55, your risk of stroke doubles each decade.
Sidestep it: By eating oranges. In a study tracking more than 69,000 women for 14 years, those who ate the most citrus fruit had a 19 per cent lower risk of ischaemic stroke, the most common type of stroke. The scientists say the protective effect is created by flavanones, an antioxidant compound found in citrus fruit.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: Oranges also provide fibre, and eating more of that protects against stroke too. UK research proves that stroke risk drops by seven per cent with every 7g increase in dietary fibre. Two medium oranges provide almost 8g of fibre.
Statistics say: Almost one in 10 Australians over age 65 has dementia, but that increases to three in 10 after age 85.
Sidestep it: By committing to a healthy diet now. A recent study found that people who had the healthiest diets when they were middle aged were nearly 90 per cent less likely to develop dementia in the next 14 years as a result.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: In the study, a ‘healthy diet’ consisted of eating lots of vegetables, berries, fruits and fish plus dairy foods and spreads with a high unsaturated-fat content, but going slow on things like sausages, eggs, sweets, sugary drinks and saturated fats from milk products and spreads.
Statistics say: It affects more than 25 per cent of Australians aged over 65.
Sidestep it:By eating broccoli. A UK study found that sulforaphane, a compound in broccoli that’s known for its cancer-fighting ability, slows down the destruction of cartilage in the body’s joints. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage inside the joints breaks down, causing joint pain.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: When you’re using frozen broccoli, add a ‘spicy’ vegetable, like raw radish or watercress, or a fiery dressing, like mustard or horseradish, to the dish. Spicy foods contain myrosinase, an enzyme that’s essential for sulforaphane production but gets stripped from broccoli during the freezing process. The trick also helps restore the sulforaphane content of fresh broccoli that’s been overcooked.
Statistics say: The older you get, the more likely you are to develop it. While 35 per cent of Australians aged over 55 have cardiovascular disease, that increases to 62 per cent in people aged over 75.
Sidestep it: With dark chocolate. Loaded with antioxidants like resveratrol, dark chocolate has been promoted as being heart healthy for a while but scientists finally worked out why recently. They discovered that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to the heart’s arteries and prevents white blood cells from sticking to blood vessel walls, both of which protect against atherosclerosis, the thickening of the arteries that’s the main cause of heart disease.
NEED TO KNOW INFO: Choose a dark chocolate that has a cocoa content of at least 70 per cent, and only eat a small amount: onsuming just one or two squares of dark chocolate each day is enough to reduce heart attack and stroke risk by 39 per cent.