What food items are linked to longevity?

Judith Davey


Healthy eating is clearly an important consideration as we age, bearing in mind changes in nutritional requirements.

Garlic – is one of the most common cooking ingredients around the world. Many dishes in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas use this strong-flavoured vegetable, which is similar to other bulb-shaped plants, including onions, chives and leeks and scallions. Garlic in ancient India was known in Sanskrit as a heal-all and “slayer of monsters”. In Europe it was considered to be proof against the plague.

Its only side-effect is its characteristic odour which permeates the whole body and can last for days. Garlic creates a gas called hydrogen sulphide, which is toxic and flammable. and smells like rotten eggs. But it does an important job in our bodies. relaxing blood vessels and allowing more oxygen to travel to the body’s organs. It lowers high blood pressure and protects the body against cardiovascular disease. Garlic is also considered effective for boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation and infections and even repelling mosquitos. German health authorities have approved garlic as a defence against atherosclerosis and high cholesterol levels. Some researchers in China have gone so far as to call hydrogen sulphide the key to a longer life.

However, it is suggested that you may have to eat a lot of raw garlic to experience its benefits, as much as 10 cloves a day—a prospect that may drive your friends away.

Ginseng – is the oldest traditional longevity tonic, with a history going back 4,000 years. The shape of the root, reminiscent of human form, is taken as a sign from the gods that it is a tonic and rejuvenator. There have been studies that asked whether ginseng might increase life span in mice, and these were negative. (The internet commentator wryly suggested that if the gods had intended ginseng for mice, the root would be shaped like a mouse!)

Ginseng is seen as a builder of “chi” (vital energy) in the human body. Hundreds of studies show that ginseng is great for the heart, regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels and lowers blood pressure. It also can increase energy levels and enhance the immune system. Ginseng also increases blood flow to the brain, which can lead to an improvement in cognitive function. There is also good support for cancer prevention. These attributes will help alleviate the maladies of old age and could therefore increase longevity.

Honey – honey harvesting is depicted in Stone Age rock art pictures. It was used by athletes in ancient Greece and by ancient Britons in their mead. The Israelites were promised a land flowing with milk and honey.

Honey has long been considered a superfood, used to treat many maladies and to boost overall health. It has incredible antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial qualities which help to improve digestion and ward off common diseases. Honey eliminates free radicals in the body and has been shown to support new tissue growth. It even protects and rejuvenates the skin – a good point for the ageing. Honey is a potential cancer therapeutic agent to complement other treatments. The anti-bacterial action of our own Manuka honey has been used to assist healing after surgery.

What could be better than something which tastes good and may lead to a long life?

Kelp – a seaweed which is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on earth. It is a staple in in Japanese and Korean cuisines and the ancient Chinese considered it food for the gods. Kelp is found in near-shore ecosystems throughout the world.

It is a natural source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and one of the best natural sources of iodine. Iodine deficiency can play a part in prostate disorders, thyroid conditions (goiter), autoimmune diseases, and diabetes. Research has shown that kelp can have cancer-fighting qualities. can aid people with diabetes and act as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.

As if this was not enough, kelp also promotes hydration, strengthens the bones, helps to maintain a healthy skin and even protects against radiation poisoning.

There are some warnings about overconsumption of iodine. It may be difficult to get too much iodine in natural kelp – you would have to eat an awful lot of seaweed- but this could be an issue with supplements.

Yoghurt – is basically milk which has been fermented using bacterial cultures. It has been known as a food product for millennia, but it was not until the early 1900s that Ilya Mechnikov, a Russian Nobel Prize winner, linked yoghurt with longevity. After compiling data from 36 countries he found that more people lived to 100 in Bulgaria than any other and attributed this to the traditional food of home-made yoghurt. In central Asian yoghurt was often based on sheep or mares’ milk. Legend says that Genghis Khan fed his armies on the latter.

Later scientific studies proved that the bacteria in yoghurt help to maintain good health by protecting the body from toxins, infections, allergies and some types of cancer. Yogurt has a much higher concentration of protein, vitamins and minerals than milk. This makes it easier for the body to absorb such nutrients as calcium, zinc and magnesium. It is more easily digested by those with lactose intolerance.

Yogurt is a good source of nutrients but whether it has a cause and effect relationship with longevity remains to be substantively proved. Certainly, it can improve bone density which protects against hip fracture. It can be easily eaten by people who have difficulty chewing. Beneficial bacteria inside our digestive tract may help bodily functioning and immune response.

Now yoghurt is found in just about every supermarket around the world and huge claims are made by producers and retailers about its health benefits. Some may even be true.

So, what can we do to live long lives – that comes next.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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