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Aging is closely tied to how you live and the diet you eat. Although scientists don’t know exactly what causes aging, they believe that certain factors play a role in how our bodies decline over the years.
One of these is oxidative stress or tissue damage due to free radicals. Oxidative stress can damage all of the parts of a cell, including the mitochondria, a portion of the cell that produces energy.
Some experts believe the damage to mitochondria due to oxidative stress plays a key role in aging.
If oxidative stress plays a role in aging, reining in this damaging type of stress is critical for slowing the aging process.
That’s where diet comes in. A diet rich in antioxidants, components that fight oxidative stress, helps reduce age-related damage to cells and tissues.
What’s the best source of antioxidants?
Colorful fruits and vegetables.
Dietary Antioxidants And Aging
Studies in fruit flies show antioxidants from sources like polyphenols in blueberries, anthocyanins in purple fruits and vegetables, apple polyphenols, and catechins from sources like tea extend lifespan.
Unfortunately, studies like this are harder to do in humans since it’s harder to control a human’s diet for a long period of time.
Other dietary antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Plus, animals and humans have an internal antioxidant defense system that fights oxidative stress.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Getting these components through the diet may further give cells the defenses they need against oxidative damage.
Interestingly, eating less food may also protect against oxidative stress and reduce cell and tissue damage that contributes to aging.
When you consume less food, metabolic processes slow, and cells produce fewer free radicals and this reduces oxidative stress.
Fruits and vegetables are an abundant source of antioxidants and when you eat a variety of them in various colors, you get synergy between the different antioxidants and phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables.
Compounds In Vegetables Can Protect Against Skin Aging
One of the components in red vegetables and fruits is lycopene, a member of a group of nutrients called carotenoids. One of the best sources of lycopene is processed or cooked tomatoes.
In fact, cooked tomatoes have higher quantities of lycopene than raw tomatoes. Heat makes the lycopene more bioavailable to the body.
How might lycopene protect against skin aging? Research shows lycopene absorbs some of the ultraviolet rays from the sun, so your skin doesn’t absorb it.
Therefore, lycopene acts as a weak sunscreen. Studies show its sunscreen capabilities are equivalent to a sunscreen with an SPF of 1.3. That’s important since ultraviolet light from the sun damages collagen and elastin that keeps your skin youthful and wrinkle-free.
The ability of lycopene to block sun damage is modest and not enough to preclude sunscreen, but it all helps.
The best sources of lycopene are cooked or stewed tomatoes, marinara sauce, ketchup, and tomato paste.
If you don’t like tomato-based products, other sources are red peppers, guava, sun-dried tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, and pink grapefruit. Why not enjoy a variety of these foods?
The Bottom Line
Fruit and vegetables contain many components, including antioxidants, that could slow the cell and tissue aging. The exact amount you need to get the most benefits Is still unclear.
However, fruits and vegetables are rich in other healthful components including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a variety of phytonutrients. In addition, the lycopene in tomato products and some fruits modestly protect skin against the aging effects of the sun.
Plus, studies link eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables with a lower risk of some chronic diseases associated with aging, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
Unfortunately, most people don’t meet the recommended guidelines of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Now you have another reason to include them in your diet!