Eating well is an important part of longevity, but it can be tough to figure out what foods, exactly, you should be fueling up with.
"Trying to get the right mix of nutrients in your daily diet can feel overwhelming, but no matter what age you are, nutrients do make a difference," Dr. Taz Bhatia, an integrative medicine physician and certified nutrition specialist, tells Yahoo Life. Eat the right balance of foods, Bhatia says, and you'll help yourself create a happier and healthier lifestyle.
It's easy to think of food as just something you eat, but Bhatia points out that what you choose plays a vital role in how your body works. "Food is medicine and nutrients make all the difference," she explains. "They regulate our hormones, they improve our mental health, they improve how our brain works, even how our body moves. It all begins with getting these nutrients in — in a regular and consistent fashion."
One place to look for inspiration is the so-called Blue Zones, Bhatia says, which includes Italy, Greece and Japan. These are areas "where people can live to 100 or above and are vital and thriving," Bhatia says. A common denominator in these areas? People focus on eating diets rich in plant-based whole foods.
Want to add some more healthy ingredients into your daily diet? Consider these proven health-boosters.
Eggs "are an easy way to begin the journey to healthier diet," Bhatia says, adding that they're a "super food." Among other things, eggs are high in B vitamins, choline, protein and omega-3 fats. "Now all of those nutrients are important for hormone health, for your gut health, for maintaining muscle mass, and even for your brain, improving how we feel in terms of anxiety and depression and keeping us all sharper," Bhatia says.
Her advice: Boil them and eat them in the morning, or mix them into a stir fry. You can even add them to your favorite baked goods. "All of the forms of using eggs are getting in the nutrients that you need," Bhatia says.
Olive oil is high in omega-9 fats. "Omega-9 fats might not get as much press as omega-3 fats, but we know omega-9 fats are critical for gut health and even for hormone health, helping to regulate estrogen levels, balance estrogen levels out, and also helping with brain health," Bhatia says. She likes using a tablespoon of olive oil on a piece of toast or rice cake, using it in salad dressing or drizzling it onto a veggie stir fry after she's done cooking.
Just a heads up: When you heat olive oil past a certain point, you lose a lot of the nutrients. "So it's really important to take in that tablespoon of olive oil every day at room temperature, not at a heated temperature," Bhatia says.
Avocados are another important superfood. "You only need about a quarter of an avocado, but that gives you the amount of omega-9 fats, selenium and even vitamin E that you need on a daily basis," Bhatia says. The nutrients, she explains, are important for brain health, improving blood flow for hormone health and promoting a healthy gut. "They contain medium-chain fats, and that helps to keep your gut stable, preventing a lot of the uncomfortable digestive issues that sabotage your nutrients to begin with."
Try chopping up avocados and adding them to a salad, eating them plain, sprinkling salt and pepper on top as a healthy snack, mashing it up and using it as a dip or blending it into a smoothie.
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A. "Vitamin A is critical when we talk about longevity," Bhatia says. "Vitamin A is coming in, improving cell turnover, preventing your cells from collapsing and your muscles skin and hair from deteriorating." She recommends baking a sweet potato, or chopping it up and roasting or boiling it. "There's so many different things you can do with sweet potatoes, and they're easy to digest. They don't hurt your stomach, and they're incredibly yummy as well," Bhatia says.
Kale is "super high" in vitamin A and vitamin C, Bhatia says. Vitamin A "helps the immune system and helps us to fight off viruses and bacteria," she says. Vitamin C "plays an incredible role in keeping the gut healthy, your skin healthy, your muscles, your bones, and so much more," she says. Kale also helps with glutathione. "Glutathione is a powerful, powerful antioxidant, really providing oxygen to all our cells, keeping us healthy, keeping every organ and muscle in the body vital and thriving, keeping us in our best form," Bhatia says.
Kale is also a cruciferous vegetable, she points out, which helps with metabolizing estrogen and cleaning up your liver. "One of the big issues with aging is that our livers get a little bit sluggish and can't move things through," Bhatia says. "Kale is one of those ingredients that supports the liver." Consider chopping up kale and using it as a base for salads, or adding it to soups.
This fruit is high in fiber, minerals and resveratrol, Bhatia says. "There are so many great studies on resveratrol and how it really promotes longevity and healthy aging," she adds. Her advice: Cut a pomegranate in half, pop out the seeds and eat them. "I love adding it to salads or to any decorative recipes when I'm trying to make something, because they're so beautiful as well," she says.
Bhatia recommends rotating these foods into your diet and striving to have them three to five times a week. "There's not a right or wrong way to do this," she says. "It's all about incorporating tiny easy, healthy habits into your meals, so that you get the nutrients that you need to stay better and vital longer."