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5 Healthiest Food Choices for a Long Life

The Editors at RealAge
Healthy Living
August 10, 2012

Marinated, extra firm tofu is a tasty alternative to pork in a stir-fry.
Marinated, extra firm tofu is a tasty alternative to pork in a stir-fry.

From exotic juices to cans of cocktail peanuts, more and more edibles in the supermarket are being dubbed "anti-aging" by some marketer or media pundit. The real deal about munchies that keep you youthful? They come from the earth, not a vacuum pack. That point has been brought home again and again as we read about the diets of Olympians such as swimmer and 11-time medalist Natalie Coughlin, who maintains a huge bed of kale in her garden, and beach volleyball player and three-time Gold medalist Misty May-Treanor, who told EatingWell that one of her favorite power foods is Greek yogurt and honey.

But you don't need to be an Olympian to know how to properly fuel your body. Take a look at what the longest-lived people in the world are eating. Then, put their favorites on your own table.

Costa Rica: Beans for Breakfast
Residents of Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula are four times more likely than most North Americans to live past age 90. One reason may be morning fare like gallo pinto, a tasty mix of black beans and rice flavored with onion, red peppers, garlic, olive oil, cilantro, and a salsa lizano--a condiment a little like Worcestershire sauce. But don't limit yourself; this dish is great at any meal.

Find out which beans are the most nutritious.

Nova Scotia: Wild Blueberry "Grunt"
Some of Nova Scotia's picturesque villages are home to Canada's highest percentages of centenarians -- people who've lived for at least 100 years. One reason may be polyphenol-packed wild blueberries produced by the millions of tons on this island. Luckily, you can find frozen wild blueberries in your supermarket. Use 'em to make a traditional "grunt"-- lightly cooked blueberries (skip the sweetener that's usually in the recipe; the berries are sweet enough!) served over a biscuit (but please, make it whole grain, or skip the biscuit altogether). It's also known as a slump, a fungy, a buckle, or a bang belly.

France: Wine
In this country, local red wine is king. And for good reason. Moderate drinking (1 glass for women, up to 2 for men) with a meal a day seems to explain some of the "French Paradox"-- low rates of heart disease despite a penchant for artery-clogging goodies like cheese. It may help explain why the French tie the Italians (another nation with a healthy love of wine) as Western Europe's longest-living people. Wine's magic seems to come from a few components: ethanol, which boosts levels of healthy HDL cholesterol; resveratrol, which new research suggests can mimic the life-extending effects of cutting calories; and polyphenols, which rev up the body's own cell-protecting antioxidants. Why not try a red wine from a vineyard near you, or head for a heart-healthy zinfandel, syrah, pinot noir, or cabernet sauvignon?

How wine protects your throat from Acid Reflux.

Greece: Lots of Veggies, Little Meat
On some Greek islands, one-third of the residents have already celebrated their 90th birthdays. Their longevity secret? The famed Mediterranean diet. When researchers quizzed 23,349 Greek women and men about what's on their plates, they found that death rates were lowest for those who ate the most fruit, vegetables, beans, and olive oil. The occasional glass of wine helped, too. So did fish, seafood, whole grains, and dairy products. What wasn't on their plates also mattered. Those who limited red meat to a few times a month lived longer than those who indulged more frequently.

Eating lots of vegetables accounted for 16% of the youth-power of Mediterranean eating. Drizzle on a little olive oil and top veggies with a scattering of walnuts and you can more than double the impact. Not only will it be delicious, the good fats pamper your heart and help your body absorb more of the carotenoids and other nutrients in cooked veggies and in salad greens.

Japan: Tofu
Tofu is on sale in the produce section of nearly every supermarket. Good news, because on the Japanese island of Okinawa, it may be why residents age gracefully to 100+ more often than anywhere else on earth. Researchers credit this mild-tasting soy curd's low fat content and high levels of good-for-you saponins and isoflavones. Chunk up some extra-firm tofu instead of chicken or pork in a stir-fry, or use soy crumbles in place of ground meat in a hearty spaghetti sauce. Marinate it first with ginger, garlic, and low-sodium soy sauce to heighten flavor.

So instead of falling for an anti-aging additives-filled pitch, steer yourself toward these flavorful, health-giving goodies. You'll see what these cultures have known for years: When it comes to the tastiest anti-aging foods, Mother Nature makes the best.

Expert Q&A: Find more ways to boost nutrition and eat healthy.

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