Anti-aging as a component of health and wellness

by Keith Nunes
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NEW ORLEANS — Combine consumer demand for natural products with the anti-aging properties of some foods, and an intriguing combination is formed, according to several speakers at this year’s Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

"The food industry has a receptive market in the aging population," said Dr. Mary A. Johnson, a professor of gerontology in family and consumer sciences at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., during a session titled "Fountain of youth: Nutrition intervention in aging," a session on June 29. "Older people want to be healthy, to live healthfully, to have a good time. ... Some science suggests that older people might benefit more from improved nutrition than younger people."

Ms. Johnson pointed out the benefits of higher doses of vitamin B12 for bone health and balance, as well as higher amounts of vitamin D in slowing aging. Today, 1,000 International Units of vitamin D is the current recommendation for older people.

Berries and nuts, especially walnuts, continue to gain prestige as foods that protect against aging’s deleterious effects like memory and coordination loss.

Compounds in such fruits and vegetables as strawberries, blueberries and spinach help the brain to counteract stress and inflammation, which contribute to aging diseases like Alzheimer’s and arthritis, said Dr. James Joseph, lead scientist at the neuroscience lab of the Human Nutrition Research Center for Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

A tougher way to live longer is to eat 30% fewer calories a day. Studies with rats and monkeys show increased lifespan and decreased occurrence of disease when animals consume fewer calories (though they have to be nutritious ones). Human calorie restrictors, a self-selected group that follows a low-calorie diet, have lower fat, body mass index, triglycerides, low density lipoprotein and blood pressure.

Does decreasing calories by one-third for several decades account for a reasonable prescription for the good, long life in this food-rich society? Not likely, said Dr. Donald Ingram of Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Research shows stress levels soar with a severe reduction of calories. Mr. Ingram said, there is a "fruit and vegetable connection to longevity. You have to select your foods better."

Substances such as reserveratol in grapes and polyphenols in cranberries and blueberries protect an organism from aging.

Eat nutritious foods, not supplements the scientists warn. Toxicity may occur when consumers get too much of a good thing.

"Stop trying to make drugs from these foods," Mr. Joseph said. "Better to eat the foods than swallow the supplements. If you overdose on the food, you know what will happen (as in stomach discomfort). The evidence is overwhelming that it’s better to get these substances in real food."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, July 8, 2008, starting on Page 45. Click here to search that archive.

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