~ Successful Aging Is All in the Diet

The Monterey County Herald, Calif., 11-04-05

"I'm 93 years old and my eyesight has kind of gone haywire. Outside of that, I'm in pretty good shape."

I'll say. My friend's uncle Paul stands straight and tall as he dons his cap and heads out the door for his morning walk. His hands show no signs of arthritis. And his mind is sharp. What's his secret?

"Well ... I've been kind of a health nut for several years," he says with a smile. "I like to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables like they say. And I try to get plenty of rest. And I take a multivitamin supplement."

What wisdom. According to a report released this month from the United States Department of Agriculture, most Americans do not get enough vitamin E (found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils) from the foods we eat. More than half of us do not get enough magnesium, found in beans and legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. And many of us fall short on vitamins A and C, found primarily in fruits and vegetables.

We had three fun days with uncle Paul and his 86-year-old sidekick, uncle Robert, while their family was out of town last week.

"What do you know about nutrition for your eyes?" Paul asked as we sat down for lunch one day.

We know that vitamins C and E slow the progression of cataracts, I replied as I placed fresh tomato slices on our whole grain bread sandwiches. And carotenoids - the pigments such as lutein and lycopene that give yellow, orange or red color to fruits and vegetables - protect our eyes from sunlight damage that can lead to cataracts. Uncle Robert gobbled down his cantaloupe.

Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids also guard against macular degeneration - an eye condition caused by deterioration of the macular region of the retina, I continue. Zinc - a mineral found in protein-rich foods such as meat and poultry - along with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may also help protect the eyes from macular degeneration.

"I've been reading about B-12 and I try to get enough," uncle Paul tells me over lasagna that evening. "I know red meat is a good source plus it has a lot of zinc and that's good for the eyes, too. So I try to get enough of that."

Right on. Vitamin B-12 - a nutrient found only in animal food - is more difficult to absorb as we age. Inadequate B-12 can cause nerve damage and memory problems that mimic Alzheimer's disease. Nutrition experts recommend "older folks" over the age of 50 get some B-12 in a multivitamin supplement or foods fortified with this nutrient.

After lunch, while Paul took a quick nap, Robert turned on a television news show and, lo and behold, there was Jack Lalanne, 91-year-old health and fitness guru, still looking strong and fit.

His diet advice? "If it's man-made, don't eat it," he said as he described how he eats four or five servings of fresh fruits and five to six servings of fresh vegetables each day. And only whole grain breads and cereals.

It's a fact. What we eat helps determine how we age. Pass the spinach, will you please, Robert?
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