How to get the benefit of rising life expectancy

It's the diet for those of us who aspire to live until we're 90. Scientists and researchers from the British Nutrition Foundation have created an anti-ageing plan and say that it has never been more important to control what we eat.

Average life expectancy has grown from 70 to 80 in the past half-century, and is expected to extend by another decade over the next 50 years. But the prospect of living to 90 will not be an enticing one if it is accompanied by increasing decrepitude, the scientists say. In their report, launched today, they say that simple changes to diet and lifestyle, such as taking a 30-minute brisk walk each day, could hold disease at bay and improve quality of life.

Professor John Mathers of Newcastle University, chairman of the BNF's Healthy Ageing task force, said adopting a diet providing key nutrients early in life would have long-term benefits. But it was never too late to change.

Here are some of the key foodstuffs to maintain health into old age:

Eyes

One in eight people over 75 suffers from severe problems with their vision, the report says. Key nutrients to maintain healthy eyes in old age are lutein and zeaxanthin; good sources are kiwi fruit, grapes, spinach and broccoli.

Brain

One in 20 people over 65 suffers from dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, or severe cognitive problems. Folate, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids are key nutrients for the brain. Folate is found in leafy vegetables, some fruits such as oranges and breakfast cereals (fortified with the nutrient). Vitamin B 12 is found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Omega-3 fatty acids are in oily fish.

Bones

One in three women and one in 12 men over 55 are affected by osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and calcium (in milk) and vitamin D (from sunlight) are important. We make no vitamin D between October and April, because the sun is too low in the sky, but it is also limited in dietary sources (eggs, oily fish). Deficiency is also linked with cancer and there are calls for foods such as flour to be fortified with it, a view that Dr Susan Lanham-New, reader in nutrition at Surrey University and contributor to the report, agrees with.

Heart

Around 94,000 deaths are caused by heart disease each year. Nutrients that contribute to a healthy heart are omega-3 fatty acids, many vegetable oils, soluble fibre (such as that found in oats, peas and beans), folate, vitamin B12 and potassium, in root vegetables and bananas. Whole grain foods, nuts and soya are also good for the heart.

But Professor Paul Dieppe of Oxford University said that dietary supplements do not provide an "easy answer" to the task of healthy eating. "There is a lack of evidence for a beneficial effect of many supplements," he said. "People should look to get the nutrients they need to keep themselves healthy from the foods they eat. Supplements can't replace the benefits of a healthy balanced diet."

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