It's always important to watch what you eat, but a healthy diet is even more critical at midlife. That's because your risk of certain diseases increases as you get older. Among these are heart disease and some types of cancer. A healthy diet isn't a guarantee that you will never have to face these illnesses, but it does increase your chances of staying disease-free.
- Green Tea: Although scientists have known for a while that green tea and its extracts can have many health benefits, a study recently presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting on cancer prevention found that green tea may help prevent or slow breast and prostate cancers. This is important because your risk of these two cancers increases as you get older. The researchers say that antioxidants in green tea, called polyphenols, reduce inflammation of prostate tissue. Another green tea extract called polyphenon E may slow the growth of cancerous cells in the breast. Personally, I just like a cup of green tea a day because it tastes good, but it's nice to know that it is healthy as well.
- Cherries: Some researchers believe that the incidence of gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis, may be on the rise because of the increasing obesity rate. It's estimated that 8.3 million adults suffer from gout, which is caused by a build up of uric acid in your joints. The pain and swelling often start in the big toe. There are medications to control gout, but researchers are also trying to find ways that eating certain foods can lower your risk. One recent study found that patients with gout who ate cherries over a two-day period showed a 35 percent lower risk of a gout attack compared to gout patients who did not eat cherries. Other studies have found that cherries may be an anti-inflammatory and could lower the concentration of uric acid.
- Yogurt: I have been a yogurt eater since college and find that it often satisfies my urge for something sweet and creamy after dinner. But a recent study presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association found that people who routinely eat yogurt are less likely to develop high blood pressure. Researchers followed about 2,000 adults who did not have high blood pressure for 14 years and found that participants were nearly a third less likely to develop high blood pressure if more than 2 percent of their daily calories came from yogurt. Look for brands enriched with vitamin D, which strengthens bones, and stick to low-fat products.
- Chocolate: This one might seem too good to be true and there is indeed a caveat. First, the benefits. Chocolate is being touted as a heart healthy food lately because the cocoa bean is rich in plant nutrients called flavonoids. These can be found in lots of other foods (such as fruit and vegetables), but the main flavonoids in chocolate are called flavanols and there is research that shows that flavanols may improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and making blood platelets less sticky. Flavanols are also in a lot of other foods, such as cranberries, onions, and red wine. Here's the caveat. Not all chocolate contains high levels of flavanols. Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate because it's less likely to have lost flavanols in the processing. This isn't a license to run wild either. To get the benefits without overindulging, stick to one ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week.
- Coffee: This is my favorite health food. OK, it's not really a health food but researchers think that caffeine may provide a lot of unexpected benefits, especially as you get older. Coffee drinkers appear to be less likely to have Parkinson's Disease, dementia, and type 2 diabetes. Coffee drinkers may also be less likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke. Again, this doesn't mean you should be gulping down a venti Starbucks two or three times a day. Most of the studies have found that the benefits come from drinking no more than three six-ounce cups. And don't load it up with cream and sugar. That just adds calories that you don't need—at any age.