Healing Foods for a Healthy Life: Part Two

Try Fresh Fruits and VegetablesAs we get older, the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and certain cancers goes up significantly. The foods you eat – as well as your activity level -- are major players in maintaining optimal health. A common theme throughout nutrition research is that eating more plants and less animal-based foods offers greater health benefits in the long run. Thus, choosing more beans, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is a step in the right direction for your health.

Check out these food and health pairings:

Bone-Strengthening Foods:

Food and fitness both play a vital role in bone health. The latest science shows that nutrients like vitamin D and calcium (plus flavonoids found in green tea) provide bone-building action and support. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in your body is stored in bones. Vitamin D and calcium work synergistically to strengthen bone – the body cannot absorb calcium into the intestine without help from vitamin D. That means that getting plenty of both nutrients is beneficial to maintain strong and healthy bones. How much, you ask? Children should get at least 400 IU of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Most people up to age 50 should get 1,000 mg a day of calcium. After 50, women need 1,200 mg a day. Mens' calcium needs go up after age 70.

Foods rich in vitamin D and calcium include fortified cow's milk, yogurt, cheese, soymilk, rice, and nut milks. Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, halibut, tuna, and/or mackerel contain significant levels of vitamin D, as do mushrooms, which have been exposed to UV light.

Studies have shown that sipping a few cups of green tea daily may give women a bone-building boost from the flavonoid epigallo-3-catechin gallate (EGCG). This flavonoid has been shown to mineralize bone. In addition, vitamin C-rich foods like raspberries, strawberries, oranges, pineapples, grapefruit, kiwi, guava, and tomatoes help collagen fibers link together and create a strong connective tissue matrix. Antioxidants like vitamin C also help protect bones from free radical damage and increase bone mineral density/bone mass.

Keeping Joints Happy

Arthritis, which is swelling of the joints, is the main cause of disability in people over age 55.  The types of diets that show some promise are low in saturated fat and red meat and high in fruits and vegetables; in other words, similar to the diet recommended for living a healthy life. These diets appear to help with alleviating pain, but not necessarily stiffness or physical function. A recent study found that non-starchy veggies, garlic, and other alliums (i.e., onions) helped hip osteoarthritis improve.

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.

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