Susan Saunders, founder of healthy eating site kaleandcocoa.com, reveals the foods that will help you look and feel great as you age
In recent years, there has been a huge – positive – shift in the way women age. We live longer, healthier lives than ever before, allowing us to fulfil dreams, achieve ambitions and enjoy more. But to really get the most out of life through these extra decades, we need to do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy, happy and fighting fit. Fortunately, we can make a huge difference to how we look and feel – and how we age – simply by eating well. Using nutrients to support the changing needs of our bodies as we get older helps with everything from heart, lung and brain health to maintaining supple joints and supporting our skin.
The great joy of eating well is that it works from the inside out. While a great diet helps our bodies to function optimally, it also strengthens skin, rebuilds collagen and powers us through later life. Along with looking after our bodies from the outside – taking regular exercise, finding ways to relax and de-stress, caring for and moisturising our skin – it can really help us to look and feel better as we age.
For a clear example of how our internal health shows on our faces, consider this. A study of women in their late forties and early fifties found that those with the deepest wrinkles and least elastic skin also had the lowest bone density. The wrinkles were predictive of bone loss at all the commonly measured sites: hips, lumbar spine and heels, regardless of age, weight, height, etc.
Our bones are highly mineralised but they are still 50 per cent collagen, the structural protein that keeps our skin bouncy, so it’s no surprise that the same raw materials support the formation of both skin and bone – and the same free radicals break them down.
As we age, our bodies are under attack from free radicals generated by exposure to the sun, pollution and unhealthy diets. Free radicals are essentially unhinged, lonely electrons, rampaging round our bodies looking for a new mate. And they don’t care if they break up other pairs of electrons in their quest for a partner. Scientists call this process oxidation – we are “rusting”, basically. This damages our skin and contributes to many other age-related degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and dementia.
One of the key ways to fight this damage is with a diet that’s high in antioxidants. These are the good guys: giving their own electrons to the free radicals who can then settle down and live happily ever after. So the more antioxidants we consume, the better.
Antioxidant is the term applied to a group of nutrients, in particular vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, flavonoids and selenium. In recent years there’s been a lot of talk about “superfoods”, foods that are particularly rich in these age-busting nutrients. The best sources of antioxidants are fresh fruit and vegetables – the more colourful the better. For example, the deep colour of blueberries, red peppers and red cabbage are all down to high concentrations of anthocyanins – a family of antioxidant pigments that may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Recent research has focused on the power of individual foods which are particularly rich in antioxidants. There’s a load of them which are also particularly great for ageing skin. Try:
A blue-green algae that’s great in smoothies – which aids the rejuvenation and repairing of ageing skin.
These cold-pressed, unroasted cocoa beans are rich in sulphur, which promotes strong hair and nails as well as glowing skin. Use the powdered form in desserts or sprinkle nibs on porridge.
Reduces skin ageing and is anti-inflammatory, stabilising blood sugar and reducing cravings. Use to sweeten baking.
Best consumed from frozen or in powder form in smoothie bowls – are good for the heart and packed with polyphenols, making them good skin food, too.
However, there’s no point eating these if your diet is deficient in other areas. It’s more about aiming towards a “super diet” – a way of life that incorporates the benefits of fruit and veg, whole grains and healthy fats to benefit our bodies. So while it’s great to add spirulina to smoothies, it’s more about adopting a generally healthy diet: one rich in whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit, with moderate amounts of lean protein and some healthy fats found in coconut oil, raw nuts and avocado. Heavily processed foods – those laden with added sugars, salt and preservatives – don’t help us to age well and put a strain on the body.
This isn’t about having a restrictive diet, spoiling the fun or making ourselves miserable. It’s about having treats sometimes and then making some clever food swaps at other times: blitz cauliflower and steam quickly to replace white rice, sauté chopped veg in a couple of tablespoons of water rather than oil to keep fat intake down and mix lunchtime tuna into a salad bowl rather than a sandwich. Make cakes sweetened by fruit rather than refined sugar and with wholegrain flours rather than the white stuff. Your taste buds won’t notice the difference, but your health will. It’s just about listening to your body and cutting back when you’ve overdone things – but not beating yourself up or having strict rules.
Five top tips for boosting your skin from the inside out
- Add deeply coloured fruits and vegetables to every meal. Mix berries into your breakfast porridge (we rely on frozen ones). Chop a range of veg such as sweet potatoes, aubergine and red pepper into small cubes, toss in olive oil and seasoning and roast in a hot oven for around 40 minutes. Use in everything – top with a poached egg for a simple supper.
- Chow down on chia seeds which swell up when soaked in water or milk. They are packed with omega-3, an essential fatty acid which helps nourish the skin.
- Say hello to soy – research published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed it may help heal some of the sun’s photo-ageing damage. Another research project, published in the journal Menopause, showed that soy extract reduced the appearance of crow’s feet in Japanese women. We love whole soya beans, rather than processed soya milk, so have added tempeh – a fermented bean curd – to our diets. Edamame beans are another great option – most big supermarkets sell them frozen and podded, and they are great for adding to salads and soups.
- Munch on millet, which is proof that not all superfoods are expensive. This gluten-free grain, traditionally fed to cattle and birds, is packed with the collagen-forming amino acids methionine and lysine.
- Chomp on (a little) dark chocolate – everyone’s favourite superfood – cocoa contains high levels of dietary flavanols that protect skin from sun damage and make it look smoother.
For more information on eating well to age well, and delicious, simple recipes check out Kaleandcocoa.com
Hand and bodycare designed for you
To help you get the most from your body as you get older and to give the most support, Dove Youthful Vitality provides a luxurious, pampering experience that addresses your changing needs. It’s like a superfood for your skin. The specially formulated range includes a Body Lotion, a Body Cream and a Hand Cream that all contain lactic acid and an alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) that acts to remove the top layer of skin. This boosts smoothness, resilience and suppleness. The range also includes Cell-Moisturiser™ technology, which helps to clear out dullness by improving surface skin-cell renewal. This can result in a noticeable improvement in skin appearance, giving more of an evenness of tone and texture, and leaving skin looking and feeling more youthful while allowing you to indulge in a pleasurable sensorial moment, so you can feel and look great every day, whatever your age.