There is promising new evidence that you can slow down ageing in just about every system of your body. You actually have the choice – to age 'old' or age 'young' - and as you'll see, you don't have to turn your life upside down to do it.
What makes us age?
The entire process of ageing, from your first wrinkle to worsening eyesight, depends on oxidation. Put simply, we run on oxygen. We make energy by combusting carbohydrate with oxygen. The net result is our own exhaust fumes called 'free oxidising radicals', sometimes called oxidants or free radicals.
Anything burned, whether it's a piece of bacon or the fuel in your car, creates these harmful by-products. These literally age you by damaging cells. The average cell has millions of tiny 'scars' caused by oxidation. As a consequence, your body and brain gradually work less and less well and look less and less youthful.
But you can dramatically slow down the process by upping your intake of antioxidant nutrients. These are plentiful in certain fruits and vegetables. Most people are aware that they should be eating at least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. The World Health Organisation takes this one step further and recommends eight to ten servings daily, particularly in relation to cancer prevention. This is consistent with the results of our 100% Health Survey.
Measuring food’s antioxidant power
It's important to realise that not all fruit and veg packs the same anti-ageing punch. The best method of assessing the antioxidant power of a food is to measure its ORAC (oxygen radical absorbency capacity) potential. This is an objective measure of how good a food is at dealing with the oxidant 'exhaust fumes' of life. The oldest living people consume at least 6,000 ORACs a day. But what does this mean for your daily diet?
Generally speaking, where you find the most colour and flavour you will also find the highest antioxidant levels. The reds, yellows and oranges of tomatoes and carrots, for example, are caused by the presence of beta carotene. Artichoke has the highest rating of all the vegetables. Fruits that have the highest levels are those with the deepest colour, such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. These are particularly rich in powerful antioxidants called anthocyanadins. One cup of blueberries will provide 9,697 units. You would need to eat 11 bananas to get the same benefit as a cupful of blueberries! Turmeric and mustard are also excellent antioxidants.
The Cherry on top
One of the simplest and easiest ways to achieve 6,000 ORACs is to have a daily shot of a montmorency cherry concentrate called Cherry Active, diluted with water. This measures 8,260 on the ORAC scale, which is the equivalent of around 23 portions of regular fruit and vegetables!
Chocolate is very rich in two anti-ageing antioxidant flavonoids called gallie acid and epicatechin. In fact, chocolate contains roughly twice as much as red wine and four times as much as green tea. However, it must be dark chocolate.
Resveratrol – The French secret
The 'French paradox' has led to the discovery of one of the most potent and interesting antioxidants of all. It's called resveratrol. Its benefits include improving cardiovascular health, boosting immunity and protecting the brain, as well as having extraordinary effects on extending life. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have shown that resveratrol activates a 'longevity gene' in yeast that extends life span by more than 50 per cent! Resveratrol is also found in green vegetables, mulberries, citrus fruit and the skins of peanuts, but is most abundant in red grapes and good quality red wines.
When you are exposed to an oxidant, there's a specific sequence of antioxidant nutrients that 'disarm' the oxidant. For fat-based oxidants, for example in chips, the team players are vitamin E (rich in fish and seeds), vitamin C(rich in fruit and vegetables), and glutathione (found in onions and garlic). Each of these antioxidants then have to be 'reloaded' to work again, a job done by Co-enzymeQjo (for vit E), beta-carotene and alpha lipoic acid (for vit C)and anthocyandins and/or resveratrol (found on red/blue foods).
I hedge my bets by taking a single antioxidant complex supplement and eating as many of these foods as I can every day. This will add years to your life, and life to your years.
By Patrick Holford, Positive Food - January 2011