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A list of foods proven to benefit your overall strength and well-being.
When I was 11 years old, my mother and I were waiting at the checkout line of a popular pharmacy in South Africa, to pay for our vitamins. Just as we approached the counter, we paused to the sound of a frail voice from the back of the queue. An aged man with a distinguished colonial English accent summoned, ‘what is the natural herbal remedy for memory loss?’ The pharmacist answered in an unsurprised voice, ‘Gingko Biloba, sir’. A minute and a half later, the same voice with the same style came back and recited the question in the same tone. The pharmacist politely repeated the answer. This caused an outburst of giggles from my younger self, rapidly ended by a jab in the side from my mother. I realised at this point that the old man wasn’t joking, but showing signs of short-term memory loss.
This has become a family story and a reference point when anyone we know shows signs of memory lapse. It hardly occurred to me that day, but now the possibility is all too real that memory loss, among other age-related disabilities, could lie in my future. Preparing for a better older self has become a focus of mine, particularly now, in my late forties as I prepare for the second half of my life.
I am a real food lover. Apart from enjoying great tastes and varieties, I want food to work for me. Personally, this means an inclusion of food rich in melatonin and collagen (for my sleep quality and joint paint complaints) and brain food (to fight against the possible onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s).
Two dietary requirements that I am constantly reminded to take every day, come rain or shine, are water and vitamin C. Neither my doctor, my nutritionist nor any health news feed article can emphasise enough how important these two ingredients are for our overall well-being–physically and mentally.
My mornings start with fruits rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, strawberries and kiwis are splendid examples). Because our bodies can’t store vitamin C, we have to take it in every day, and fruits and vegetables are a better source than dietary supplements.
I spread my water consumption (1.5–2 litres) through the day. A hint of ginger, lemon or mint adds some healthy flavour and keeps it from getting boring.
But we require more than these two golden ingredients for our daily health, strength and wellbeing. The below ten items are always in my weekly shopping basket, and I include them in an assortment of recipes throughout my days. I have listed them with benefits that particularly interest me as I get older:
1. Oats: Enormously nutritious. Oats are rich in antioxidants and their long-lasting, slow-release energy can help stabilise blood sugar. This makes them a great way to start your day.
2. Blueberries: The king of antioxidant foods. They are rich in vitamin C and are known to reduce DNA damage, which can help protect against ageing and cancer. Blueberries can help maintain brain function and improve memory.
3. Bananas: My happy food! Bananas are rich in potassium, vitamin B6 and biotin (biotin helps combat thinning hair and brittle nails).
4. Eggs: The most nutritious among foods. They protect against cardiovascular diseases by increasing our HDL’s (the “good” cholesterol). Eggs also contains antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin. They are very important for eye health and can help prevent macular degeneration (a hereditary condition which we have in our family). Finally, eggs are a valuable source of choline (a macronutrient essential for neurological development, nerve function, muscle control and metabolism).
5. Fatty fish: Brilliant for fighting against cardiovascular diseases, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. They protect your vision and memory. Examples include salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines.
6. Green leafy vegetables: Filled with anti-ageing properties, oh yes! They burn fat, yes please! These green goodies improve brain function, help strengthen bones and contribute towards a healthy heart. So, they are crucial to our diets. The most popular ones are kale, spinach, broccoli, collard greens and cabbage.
7. Olive Oil: The Mediterranean marvel. When I moved to Spain, olive oil quickly became a key component in my kitchen. Important for heart health, olive oil is high in antioxidants, contains strong anti-inflammatory properties and is a delicious addition to most meals.
8. Avocados: Great for your skin and just downright delicious! Rich in potassium, they help lower cholesterol, promote eye health, and deliver anti-inflammatory benefits.
9. Nuts: Highly nutritious and loaded with antioxidants. They are fibrous and highly recommended for teeth health (something I am keeping a close eye on as I age). Include a handful of almonds, cashews, and walnuts in your daily diet (but not too many, as these are high in calories!).
10. Dark chocolate: A surprise entry? Healthline summarises it best: ‘Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet’. Besides being nutritious and benefiting the brain, it also takes care of that nagging sweet tooth. It is a great food for you. A few squares of dark chocolate in the evening results in balance being restored in my life.
There is so much nutritional information out there reaching us through every means possible. It is hard to keep on top of it all. Fad diets arrive every few months, often contradicting the very focus that the previous diet emphasised.
It is important to find a healthy balance and to develop eating habits that are sustainable. I don’t want to go overboard on extreme programmes that are hard to stick to and that jolt my system. That’s why finding a set of foods that I love and know are good for me is so valuable. The above items are my healthy ‘basics’, to eat individually or include in many wholesome recipes and meals.