Diet is the key to ageing gracefully

Eating fresh, vitamin-packed food can make a huge difference to our energy levels and brain health.

OUR ancestors would probably turn in their graves — and throw their eyes up to heaven at the silliness of it all.

 Here we are in the 21st century living in a technologically intelligent world that would have been a futuristic fantasy for them and yet with all our advances, we have to be reminded to eat real food.

Food is a basic necessity, right? But with the appearance of the vast array of colourful concoctions displayed in supermarket shelves, and the creation of a pre-packed, processed, convenience food world, we have often lost sight of the very basics of eating well — and it has brought a series of health problems in its wake.

When we are young we can get away with murder — or at least a good dose of self-abuse — as our metabolism is far more forgiving and we bounce back quickly.

Once we edge into our fifth decade, however, we begin to increasingly notice that it takes us longer to recover. We may, for instance, begin to complain of having less energy and blame age, rather than our diet.

While diet is just one contributory factor to ageing well, eating real food — that looks like it should, in its natural form — can make a huge difference to our energy levels.

We need to remind ourselves that processed food which may taste delicious, but is full of salt, sugar and fat, must be avoided, or at least eaten very seldom if we want to keep that pep in our step and illness at bay.

Here are some reasons why fresh real food is the way to healthy ageing:

Mediterranean break

Lots of research has hailed the Mediterranean diet as the ideal heart-healthy eating programme and, of course, we all want to look after our cardiac health as we age.

It consists of eating mainly plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. 

You must replace butter with healthy fats such as olive oil; use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour your foods, limit meat to only a few times a month and eat fish and poultry at least twice a week. 

You can also drink wine in moderation — but that’s optional and not a necessity!

MIND your brain

Eating the Mediterranean diet is taken a step further with the MIND diet, which is said to help your brain.

Spelling it out alone would challenge your grey matter. It is the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND).

Its origin is based on a combination of aspects of the much-referenced Mediterranean diet, and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, both of which have shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Created by researchers at Rush University in Chicago, the Mind diet is broken down into 10 “brain healthy” food groups we should eat and five “unhealthy food groups” we should avoid.

The 10 brain-healthy food groups are: nuts, berries, beans, green leafy vegetables, other fresh vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.

The five unhealthy food groups are: hard cheese, butter and stick margarine; pastries and sweets; red meats and fried or fast-food.

Research carried out in Chicago which analysed the food intake of 923 participants between the ages of 58 and 98, revealed that those who only partially adhered to it, reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 35%, while those who stuck to it longer reduced the risk by 53% and unlike the heart-healthy Mediterranean and Dash diets, in which consumption of all fruits is recommended, the Mind diet puts particular emphasis on berries, especially blueberries and strawberries.

Superfoods for a super you

We can’t avoid the regular declarations of new “superfoods” arriving on the market. But wait a minute – how new are these foods to the planet? 

This is a marketing term that has no scientific basis. But that doesn’t mean the so-called superfoods aren’t full of goodness, naturally (before they were rebranded). 

And if the marketing lures us into eating more fresh food, then keep the headlines coming!

Let’s take some advice though from Irish dietician and nutrition consultant Paula Mee, who says: “Usually this implies they contain vitamins and nutrients that promote good health, but no one food can cause, treat or prevent disease.

“What we know is that our best route to health is to include a broad variety of fruits and vegetables of all different colours. We can get all the nutrients we need from natural everyday superfoods.”

The advice is simple in its wisdom: eat well. And by the way, eat less, because our metabolism slows down. And as at all stages of life we should also eat less if we are not moving as much as we should.

But by having a healthy diet, we are also taking the first step to ensuring a healthier body and mind, as we age — it’s all connected.

As our grannies would say if they could time travel: eat up your veg!


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