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80 going on 18

Foods that fight age may not quite reverse the clock but they can substantially slow down the ageing process, making you look and feel younger.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2006 03:11 IST

Life would be infinitely happier if we could have been born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18, said Mark Twain. That was not to be, but delaying those wrinkles and a host of degenerative diseases may be possible by adding some anti-ageing foods to your daily diet, say Mumbai-based nutritionist Shama Adalja and Delhi-based dietician Dr Shikha Sharma. Among the most effective age-defying miracle foods are:

Sprouts: Highly nutritious, sprouts are a good source of protein and Vitamin C. Sprouts can grow from seeds of vegetables, grains, legumes, buckwheat and beans. As we age, our body’s ability to produce enzymes declines. Sprouts, which are a concentrated source of the living enzymes and ‘life force’ that is lost when food is cooked or not picked fresh, reduce the damage. Also, due to their high enzyme content, sprouts are much easier to digest than the seed or bean from which they come.

Garlic: Garlic contains flavonoids that stimulate the production of glutathione (the tripeptide that is the liver’s most potent antioxidant). Glutathione enhances the elimination of toxins and carcinogens. Ideally, garlic should be eaten raw as cooking destroys some of its potency. Garlic lowers total cholesterol, but raises good cholesterol, reduces risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), blood clots, certain cancers.

Onion: Onion contains two powerful antioxidants: sulphur and quercetin. Both help to neutralise the free radicals in the body and protect the cell membranes from damage. Onion also inhibits the growth of cancerous cells, increases good cholesterol (especially when eaten raw), reduces total cholesterol level, the risk of diabetes and certain cancers, increases blood-clot dissolving activity, helps prevent a cold, stimulates the immune system, has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and helps deal with gastrointestinal disorders.

Beans and lentils: Beans are low in fat (except soybeans), calories, and sodium, and high in complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre. They are a rich source of protein and have modest amounts of essential fatty acids -- mostly omega-6s (only soybean has significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids). Beans rank low on the glycaemic scale, which means they do not cause hunger-inducing spike in blood sugar levels associated with refined grains and baked goods. They also offer ample fibre (one cup of cooked beans can provide 15 grams of dietary fibre, more than half the recommended ‘daily value’ of 25 grams) and are released into the bloodstream slowly, providing energy and satiation for a sustained period.

Yoghurt: Yoghurt lowers chances of food allergies and inflammatory, allergic conditions like asthma and eczema, urinary tract and bladder infections, inflammatory intestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal cancers, duration of gastroenteritis and rotavirus-induced diarrhoea in infants. It also helps prevent tooth decay.

Hot Peppers: Pepper -- sweet bell or hot chilli -- is a member of the plant genus ‘capsicum’. All pepper contains a compound called capsaicinoids. This is especially true of chilli pepper, which derives its spicy heat as well as extraordinary anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-cancer and healthy heart effects from high levels of capsaicinoids. In addition to capsaicin, chillies are high in antioxidant carotenes and flavonoids, and contain about twice the amount of Vitamin C found in citrus fruits.

Nuts and seeds: A handful of raw, unsalted nuts can dramatically decrease risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, help control weight and reduce visible signs of ageing such as wrinkles and sagging skin. The appetite-suppressing and health benefits of nuts and seeds are lost when they are salted, oiled, roasted, stale or rancid. All nuts and seeds are healthful in moderation. The key is to eat a variety, though some stand out for their exceptionally healthy fatty acid composition, in either omega-3 or omega-9 (monounsaturated) fatty acids. Both fatty acids are heart-healthy; omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. They make a good mid-meal snack but should not be taken in excess (over 30 gm a day) by people watching their weight.

Barley grass, wheat grass and other GreEn foods...: Green foods are a group of foods that includes young cereal grasses like barley grass and wheat grass as well as a blue-green algae (BGA). Nutritionally, these are the close cousins of dark green leafy vegetables, but offer far greater levels of ‘nutrient density’. They are available in pill or powder form in health stores. Experimental studies show that green foods have marked beneficial effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, immune response and cancer prevention, partially because of the high chlorophyll concentration. Chlorophyll, the phytochemical that gives leaves, plants and algae the green hue, is the plant equivalent of the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in red blood cells.

Complex cereals such as barley, oats and bran: These are low-glycaemic grains, high in both soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre helps the body metabolise fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates, and lowers blood cholesterol levels. Insoluble fibre -- commonly called roughage -- promotes a healthy digestive tract and reduces the risk of cancers affecting it. These grains can easily be mixed with cereal or refined flour for making chappatis or bread. Dietary fibre is critical to health. Many experts believe that good health begins in the colon, and without sufficient dietary fibre, we run the risk of a host of diseases: from haemorrhoids to colon cancer.