Top 20 healthy things to eat

By Judith Wills

Eating right not only fights ageing - but can also protect you against diseases associated with age. These 20 foods should be part of your regular diet

BlueberriesBlueberries are high in antioxidants
Apples

Apples are rich in two plant compounds called catechins, and in quercetin. All help to prevent strokes, heart disease and cancer. Quercetin has also been shown to improve the firmness of collagen, which helps the skin to keep its elasticity. Apples are also rich in the soluble fibre pectin, which helps to lower blood cholesterol. Lastly, the flesh of apples contains the mineral boron, which helps to prevent calcium loss and provides some protection against osteoporosis.

Avocados

Avocados contain an amino acid called glutathione, which strengthens your defences against heart disease and cancer. They are also rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant important for good skin condition and wound healing. Avocados are also a good source of monounsaturated fat, which is linked to lower risk of heart disease.

Barley

Whole-grain barley - or "pot barley" - and other whole grains, such as rye and oats, contain phytic acid which has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancers. Barley is particularly rich in chemicals called protease inhibitors, which also have properties that combat cancer, including breast and bowel cancer. Whole grains are also high in fibre, which helps to keep the digestive and circulatory systems healthy.

Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C, at around 130mg per 100g when stewed. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant which helps keep the immune system healthy, keeps the skin in good condition and helps wounds and fractures to heal. High levels of vitamin C are linked with the lowest risk of heart disease. Blackcurrants also contain other implant compounds such as lutein (see Broccoli) and anthocyanins (see Blueberries), and the oil from their seeds has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, relieving arthritic pain. Vitamin C from foods may offer more protection than supplements.

Blueberries

Discovered in recent tests to be the most powerful antioxidants of all, blueberries have the strongest potential to prevent the diseases of old age. It has been found that 100g a day can stimulate the growth of new brain cells and may help prevent memory loss. Blueberries are also rich in a plant chemical group called anthocyanins, which help oxygenate the skin and keep it looking young. Many other red, purple and blue berries have similar properties.

Broccoli

Broccoli is high in antioxidant carotenoids, vitamin C and indoles, which help fight lung, breast and colon cancers. It is rich in lipoic acid, a fatty acid linked with increased brain power and energy. As well as high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, which help keep vision healthy, it's the best vegetable source of vitamin E which is linked with protection against Alzheimer's disease. It is rich in fibre, and a natural source of chromium, which helps to regulate blood sugars.

CarrotsCarrots

Carrots are the best source of carotenes - compounds which have a strong antioxidant effect that is important in helping to prevent cancers. Regular carrot intake can also help protect against macular degeneration and cataracts, help minimise night blindness and reduce harmful cholesterol. Carotenes also protect the skin from sun damage and cancers. Eating carrots cooked with a little oil or fat encourages carotene absorption.

Celery

Celery is renowned for reducing blood pressure, possibly because it contains the plant chemical 3-n-butyl phthalid, as well as apigenin, one of the flavonoid plant chemicals. It is also an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that balances body fluids and can lower blood pressure in some. Celery also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce pain from arthritis, as well as helping to beat fluid retention. One study found that celery is one of the vegetables most strongly linked with protection from bowel cancer.

Eggs

Fresh, organic eggs that are certified salmonella-free are an excellent food. They contain high levels of selenium which may be lacking in the diet and have cancer- and heart disease-fighting qualities. They're a good source of iodine, which can help to promote healthy thyroid activity and also contain lecithin, a substance that can help to prevent heart disease and gallstones. Eggs are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E and zinc - both lacking in many older people's diets - as well as the B group, which helps nerve health and stress, and protein. Aim to have about four eggs a week unless you have specifically been told to avoid cholesterol in your diet.

Flax seeds

Flax seeds - sometimes called linseeds - are tiny golden seeds from the flax plant. They are one of the few plant foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid which the body converts to the fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fats have a host of important anti-ageing properties - they help to prevent blood clots, stroke and heart disease, may improve brain power and lift depression, can help arthritis, improve insulin sensitivity and are vital in retaining smooth skin. Flax seeds also contain lignans - oestrogen-like plant compounds that may reduce menopausal symptoms.

Garlic

Fresh garlic contains several compounds, the most important of which is allicin. This has been shown to protect against high blood pressure, infections, candida, indigestion, stomach ulcers and bowel disorders. Several studies have shown that it can reduce harmful cholesterol by about 12 per cent, and inhibits new growth of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Garlic may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells and strengthen the immune system.

Greens

Leafy dark green vegetables, such as Savoy cabbage, kale, and spring greens, are good sources of two carotenoids which have been shown to help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Greens are also a good source of easily absorbed calcium to help maintain strong bones, and are rich in potassium, which helps protect against calcium loss. In addition, they're a good source of vitamins C and E.

Herbs

Several herbs are strong antioxidants, even when used in small amounts. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil and coriander all contain high levels of phyto-chemicals, which can help ward off heart disease and cancers.

Mixed nutsNuts

Nuts are a good source of magnesium, which is vital for energy levels. Magnesium can help keep muscles supple and prevent aches and pains, and may also lower the risk of osteoporosis. Almonds, Brazils and peanuts are good for helping to build or maintain muscle mass and help protect against glaucoma, diabetes and high blood pressure. Research in the USA has shown that just two 25g portions of fresh nuts a week reduced death from heart disease in men by up to 47 per cent.

Oily fish

Oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines are the main source of the important fats called omega-3s. Two of them - EPA and DHA - are not found in any other foods. These fats have a variety of benefits, including offering some protection against the decline of brain power and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. They are also anti-inflammatory, helping to minimise the pains of arthritis and rheumatism. In addition, they can help prevent blood clots, coronary disease and strokes.

Browse our selection of fish recipes for meal ideas.


Olive oil

Although olive oil is almost 100 per cent fat, it is rich in nutrients and compounds that can help protect against age-related disease. It is high in monounsaturated fats, which lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol while protecting the levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, and thus helps fight heart disease and stroke. Olive oil also contains squalene and oleuropein, which are powerful antioxidants, protecting blood cholesterol from oxidation. This antioxidant effect may also reduce the risk of some cancers, particularly of the breast and colon. Top-quality, cold-pressed oils contain more of the protective compounds.

Onions

The onion family, including garlic and leeks, are good detoxifiers and are also antiseptic and antibacterial. The sulphur compounds they contain are also linked with protection against strokes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancers. Just 1g of onion a day is enough to help strengthen the bones. Onions are rich in flavonoids and potassium, which can reduce blood pressure and keep the arteries healthy, and the onion family may also help to keep blood sugar levels even by regulating insulin production.

Spices

Most spices are strong antioxidants and have a variety of beneficial effects. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and can help ease the pain of arthritis. Chillies contain the plant chemical capsaicin, which is a great reliever of general aches and pains, and coriander seeds can lower blood pressure.

Soya

Soya beans contain high levels of plant oestrogens and magnesium, both of which may help to minimise menopausal symptoms. Soya beans are high in soluble fibre, and have also been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Soya protein helps build and maintain collagen and elastin, both important for keeping skin in youthful condition.

TomatoesTomatoes

Tomatoes are rich in the carotenoid lycopene, which provides some protection against cancer and heart disease. Recent trials have found that women who eat a lot of lycopene have lower risks of ovarian or breast cancer, while in men it helps prevent prostate cancer. Tomatoes are also a good source of lipoic acid, which helps increase energy levels and improve brain power in some people. Small, ripe tomatoes tend to contain the highest levels of lycopene and cooking them helps absorption.

More news and features about healthy eating.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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  • june hall

    Posted: Thursday 18 April 2013

    An excellent magazine with useful advice for everyone, and worth reading all the way through!

  • ken tootell

    Posted: Saturday 10 December 2011

    5 star info

  • myles Sullivn

    Posted: Saturday 12 November 2011

    Excellent article. Well all your articles are excellent , I look forward to saga every . month. I have learned a lot from it

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Judith Wills has been one of the UK’s best-known experts on diet, nutrition and health for 25 years and is the author of over 30 books. However, she describes her own body as ‘the result of years of healthy lifestyle triumphs and disasters in equal measure’. Follow her progress as she gets back into shape.

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