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a table spread including salmon, eggs, and red wine

Kate Mathis

1. Produce

Piling your plate with fruits and vegetables is a no-brainer when it comes to weight loss — they're low in calories, high in nutrients, and filling — but the latest studies show that certain ones can provide surprising anti-aging benefits.

There's buzz about blueberries, for instance, for their memory-boosting potential. But berries of all hues are antioxidant-rich, reports Navindra P. Seeram, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy in Kingston. That means they combat free radicals, molecules that can cause widespread cell damage and are linked to chronic inflammation. Unlike the inflammation that occurs when you sprain an ankle or strain a muscle, the type that contributes to aging is persistent, and thought to be at the root of most chronic diseases, from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to Alzheimer's, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Berries' beauty bonus: They're chock-full of vitamin C, another potent antioxidant that may help keep your complexion looking smooth by fighting those pesky (skin-damaging) free radicals.

To keep your vision sharp, set your sights on spinach and other dark leafy greens. These veggies are prime sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, plant pigments that protect your eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light. Leafy greens are also rich in vitamin K, a nutrient that plays a role in reducing bone loss and preventing fractures.

How to Pick the Perfect Produce

2. Protein

(Try these One-Dish Dinners)

This key dietary component becomes even more critical starting in the 40s, when muscle mass begins to decline by up to 1 percent a year. That drop slows metabolism, which makes the pounds pile on more easily. The double whammy consequence: Added weight puts your health at risk, and down the road, diminished muscle mass can throw off your balance (upping chances of a fall), sap your strength, and even threaten your ability to recover from an illness or accident.

To hang on to your metabolism-boosting muscle — and keep you feeling full after meals (another protein plus) — experts recommend eating plenty of skinless chicken and turkey breast, lean beef and pork, eggs, beans, and seafood. And don't forget protein-rich dairy: Minerals (primarily calcium, phosphorus, and potassium) in fat-free milk and yogurt as well as low-fat cheeses help to keep blood pressure healthy, pudge in check, and bones strong. News flash: Calcium can't build bone if you're not getting enough protein, and current recommendations — about five ounces a day for a 145-pound woman — are too low, says Robert P. Heaney, M.D., professor of medicine at Creighton University in Omaha. Our Anti-Aging Meal Plan provides about 11 ounces of protein daily.

Another reason to spoon up some yogurt: Eating at least 1/4 cup every day led to a 60 percent lower risk of gum disease and a 50 percent lower risk of tooth loss in a Japanese study published in the Journal of Periodontology. The effect is thought to be linked to the probiotics in yogurt, but not in most other dairy.

Easy Yogurt Breakfast Recipes

Cut Up a Chicken the Easy Way

3. Omega-3-Rich Fish

Fatty acids in seafood help quench the flames of chronic inflammation. In addition, "there's very good new data suggesting that omega-3 fats from fish act on an area of the brain that leads to improved mood and attitude among healthy people," says Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D., author of The Omega Diet. These improvements in outlook lead to feeling healthier and more vigorous, she explains. The omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon and tuna have the most potent anti-inflammatory effects. But it's smart to consume omega-3s from plant sources, like walnuts and flaxseed, too — especially if you're not fond of fish.

Next: Why you need to drink more wine

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