Every day it seems scientists and researchers discover more links between our health and what we eat. If you want to live longer, healthier and happier, then there are some foods you’re going to want to eat regularly. But before we get into which foods to eat, it’s important to know what it is in food that benefits your health, and why.

You might think we invest more in our health, but the truth is, consumers spend more – much more – on beauty products.  How much more? People spend over $160 billion dollars a year world-wide on beauty products. Everything from fancy creams and washes, to surgery, makeup and diet pills are bought and sold just about everywhere you can imagine.

It seems we’ll pay any price to appear more youthful and attractive. We are! In many cases, the stuff we buy for the outside comes at the expense of our health and well being. What if you were to discover all this stuff we buy is unnecessary? What if you could look, and more importantly, feel better simply by changing what you eat? Well, it turns out this may indeed be the case.

Antioxidants and Free Radicals

You’ve probably heard of antioxidants before. These are substances found in food that help eliminate free radicals in the body. In order to understand the importance of antioxidants, though, we need to know the danger of free radicals.

Free radicals are natural bi-products of the physiological process and cannot be altogether avoided. Their creation occurs during normal oxidization of particles in the body. A free radical is an atom or particle that has a charge (positive or negative) because of either an excess or deficient number of electrons. Because of this, free radicals travel the body in search of balance. They achieve it by adding or taking away electrons from other atoms in the body, thereby damaging cells and tissues along the way and creating another free radical in the process.

The more free radicals you have floating around your system, the more damage will be caused. One way this damage can manifest is in expedited aging in the body (looking older than you are) and has even been linked to some forms of cancer.

Minimizing Damage of Free Radicals

It is impossible to entirely avoid the damage of free radicals in the body, but it can be minimized. One way to do so is to abstain from certain chemicals known to increase the amount of free radicals in the body such as: alcohol, smoking, pollution, and even sunlight and exercise.

Another way to minimize the damage that free radicals can wreak is to make a point to eat food containing antioxidants.

Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals in one of two ways: chain breaking and as preventives. Chain breaking occurs when an antioxidant encounters a free radical and neutralizes it, thus ending the chain of oxidization. Preventive neutralization occurs when an oxidizing agent (free radical) is first introduced into the body and is immediately encountered by an antioxidant and neutralized.

When an antioxidant encounters a free radical and neutralizes it, the antioxidant becomes a free radical that will, in turn, require neutralization. Thus, the constant need for antioxidants exists.

Some common antioxidants you’ve probably heard of are vitamins E & C, as well as manganese, zinc, selenium and beta-carotene.

Foods That Contain Antioxidants

If you’re in the market for antioxidants, the first age-defying foods you’re going to want to get your hands on are berries. They have the highest amount of antioxidants of all fresh fruits, are low in calories and taste great! Blueberries are particularly effective choices as they contain vitamins C and E, selenium (one of the rarer antioxidants) zinc, vitamin A, as well as iron and copper (both excellent immune-builders and antibacterial).

Strawberries, while they may not pack quite the punch that blueberries do, are also a must-have in any healthy diet. Strawberries contain several antioxidants, as well as manganese, which – aside from being a powerful antioxidant – is beneficial for bone health and maintaining proper bone structure.

Adding a handful of fresh berries to your breakfast in the morning is one of the best things you can do to fight dangerous free radicals and keep your body looking and feeling younger. And for those of you on the run in the morning, you’ll be happy to hear that your morning coffee contains a healthy dose of antioxidants. As a matter of fact, coffee is the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet. So, if you don’t have the time to make yourself a breakfast with berries in the morning, although it’s important to find the time, reach for coffee and save the fruit for lunch. Check out our other recommended fruits that burn fat.

The next super food on our list is probably going to come as a surprise to some, especially those who spend a healthy sum on beauty products. It’s water. Water is everywhere in our bodies. In fact, the human body is made up of about 60% water and it’s possible to look younger simply by staying hydrated. Water puffs the skin, naturally removing some fine lines and wrinkles. It’s also the body’s main transporter of nutrients and chemicals. What’s the point of eating all those antioxidants if your body is too dehydrated to get them where they need to be?

Water helps maintain your electrolyte levels as well. Electrolytes are salts used by muscles, nerves and heart to carry electrical impulses. If your body has an electrolyte imbalance, your muscles can fatigue faster, react slower and leave you feeling sluggish. Maintaining a healthy balance of electrolytes is of paramount importance to anyone hoping to look and feel younger.

Water also protects and moisturizes your joints, helps protect vital organs and promotes a healthy bowel. Suffice it to say, without an adequate amount of water, your efforts to look and feel younger are going to be fruitless.

Number 3 on our list of 4 age defying foods is going to be fish. Fish contains high amounts of lean protein and very little fat, which translates into fewer calories. It also contains vitamin D (something difficult to find naturally in foods) which helps regulate our thyroid hormone production and thus our metabolism. Fish also contains calcium, zinc and magnesium (a couple of our antioxidant friends), vitamin B2 and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Health Benefits of Omega 3s

“Omega 3s” is another buzzword zipping around the health community today— and for good reason. They are amazingly beneficial for our everyday health. Omega 3s are what health experts refer to as “essential fatty acids.” Essential means that they are not produced in the body yet are necessary for our continued health and wellness.  Omega 3s help lower high blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes in adults. In children, they aid healthy brain function and nurture the growth of vision and nerves during pregnancy.

The health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids are not limited to the physical body, though. Studies have shown that they reduce the levels of depression in people from cultures that habitually include them in their diets. Preliminary studies have also shown positive results in the effects of Omega 3s on ADHD and in avoiding Alzheimer’s disease. Findings are positive, but it should be noted that more research is needed in these areas to come to any substantial conclusions.

While fish contain relatively small amounts of fat as opposed to poultry and red meat, they do still possess some. The good news is that the fat that fish contain is of the unsaturated variety. Unsaturated fats help reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood and promote a healthy cardiovascular system.

Good sources of Omega 3s are salmon, herring, bluefish, anchovies (yuck!), lake trout and tuna. Most health experts recommend eating fish twice a week, but for those looking to lose a few pounds, eating fish more often is an excellent way to get all the protein you need while cutting out some calories from fat. Hemp seed oil is also emerging as a great source of benefits to your health.

Be careful how much fish you eat, though, as some varieties tend to contain mercury, a substance that could harm a developing fetus and is poisonous to adults in large amounts. Salmon and canned tuna are both relatively low in mercury; however albacore tuna and shellfish are known to contain higher amounts.

Last but certainly not least on our list of foods to help you stay young are whole grains. Eating more of these is a pretty easy way to make your diet healthier overall. They’re packed with protein, fiber and nutrients. Folks who eat diets that include whole grains have been shown to possess a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and obesity.

 Labels Can be Deceptive

Unfortunately, the average American does not even get one serving of whole grains in a day … but it isn’t always our fault. It can be difficult to tell which foods are whole grains or not, simply by looking at them. Also, a lot of packaged foods are touted as being whole grains when in actuality they aren’t. Terms like “whole grain” “100% wheat” and “multigrain” are often used by manufacturers to bait the unwary into eating their product and assuming that it’s whole grain.

What whole grain actually means is that all parts of the grain are present in the food. These parts include the bran, germ and endosperm. Therefore, if all 3 parts of the grain are not present in natural quantities, then it is not whole grain.

The bran and germ of the grain contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants. When grain is refined, these two components are removed leaving only the endosperm which contains little more than sugar. While that’s great for your energy reserves, it’s terrible for your overall health. For years, companies have used this process and systematically made foods less and less nutritious by cutting out the most important parts. If you want to live healthy and eat to stay young, then you need to be aware of this and make the proper changes to support a healthy lifestyle.

Some examples of whole grains are: popcorn, oatmeal, wild rice, whole wheat flour, barley and quinoa. There are other whole grain foods out there, but these are the most common in the American diet and will most likely the easiest to get a hold of.

Carbohydrates are a necessary part of our everyday diet. Making smart choices when it comes to these foods can make a world of difference. They’re chock-full of healthy (and necessary) dietary fiber, protein, B and E vitamins, antioxidants (hey, there’s that word again!) and trace minerals like copper, zinc, iron and magnesium.

If your diet is rich in whole grains and devoid of refined, processed foods you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, some cancers, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. How about that? Reduce your chances of serious health risks simply by changing what you eat. Sounds like a pretty good trade-off to me!

All in all, as time goes on people age at different rates. Some seemingly stay young and vibrant well into their golden years while others, even in the prime of their lives, look older than their age. While genetics and lifestyle definitely play a part, what you eat is no less of a factor. If you want to get the most out of your body for years to come, be mindful of what you put into it.

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