Live Well: Food, Herbs and Your Health

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Advice about anti-aging, aging gracefully and living to the fullest no matter your age are increasingly popular ideas both online and in print publication as the U.S. population’s average age increases. People are living longer, they want to (and often do) feel “younger” than tradition might decree them to be, and they want to enjoy that time with a healthy body and mind. According to census reports, the national median age is 36.8 years, up 1.5 years since 2000 marked the “highest median age ever” in the history of the United States. During a recent visit home my mom asked me if I knew “what was good for looking and feeling younger.” I told her the few general health and skin-specific foods and herbs that I could remember, and decided to do a little more research.

What you eat really can impact the health of your skin, and of your body in general. Food that contains few supportive nutrients (most often highly processed, over-sugared or over-salted food) is just as likely to result in wrinkles and poor health as stress is (and to compound the effect, those foods are often the first we reach for when stress starts to get overwhelming). Conversely, nutrient-rich foods (usually whole grains, fruits, herbs and vegetables) can boost everything from the resilience of your immune system to the strength of your brain and the elasticity of your skin. Looking for some specifics? Check out the linked articles for herbs and recipes, or add the following considerations to your daily food plans.

Green tea is rich in free-radical-fighting antioxidants and can help maintain brain health.
Photo by Nick/Courtesy Flickr

You’ve probably heard all about antioxidants and their ability to fight everything from cancer to skin wrinkles. If you haven’t, then the basic idea is that antioxidant-rich foods (generally the brightly-colored fruits and greens) help fight free radicals and reduce damage inflicted on body systems. Herbs such as turmeric, oregano, garlic, rosemary and dandelions are especially potent. Other foods that can help keep chronic disease at bay while improving health from the inside out include apples (my favorite), strawberries, flax seeds and green tea. (Green tea is also useful in maintaining brain and memory function.)

Asian ginseng is an immune-boosting adaptogen.
Photo by Peter Garnhum/Courtesy

Less well-known than antioxidants are adaptogens, which help the body resist stress and are especially helpful for immune system support. Taken properly, they allow the body to access more energy, use oxygen more efficiently and eliminate toxins. Studies of rhodolia in the 1950s found that taking it as a supplement resulted in increased alertness, sharper cognition and better physical stamina. Other adaptogens include ginseng (American, Asian and Siberian), reishi mushrooms, ashwaganda, licorice and astragalus.

And what about your skin? With summer coming on moisturizing becomes increasingly important, even as it grows harder to achieve. Your water intake directly affects the dryness of your skin, which in turn affects how vulnerable you are to sun damage. Moisturized skin is better protected, heals faster, and minimizes the appearance of wrinkles, but that doesn’t mean you need to smear handfuls of lotion over yourself every day. Sun protection is still important, but there are foods and herbs that can help your skin retain moisture throughout the day. Foods rich in vitamin C and omega-3s are especially useful for maintaining skin elasticity with age. Avocado in particular can aide in your body’s absorption of other skin-benefiting nutrients like beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. Other options include strawberries, olive oil and stevia. (Stevia is quickly becoming my favorite herb: it’s the healthiest plant in my container garden, it’s great for refreshing summer drinks, it promotes skin health and it may even be good for teeth!)

When you look to improve your health, both now and for the future, the point isn’t to make some radical change in your life. That may sometimes be necessary, but for most people it’s more likely to increase stress than boost energy. Just try to make small changes wherever you can, as they become important to you. Recruit a friend to try new things with and enjoy the process!

*Please note that the information contained in this blog is not intended as medical advice. If you have any health concerns, please consult a health professional. 

Read More: Essential Herbs for Every AgeThe Herb Companion
Fight Aging with Every MealThe Herb Companion
Herbs for Memory: Maintain Your BrainThe Herb Companion
The Healing Power of Culinary HerbsThe Herb Companion
Feed Your Skin Starve Your Wrinkles by Allsion Tannis

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