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Take first steps against aging at the dinner table

By Linda Ciampa
Special to CNN
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As we eat, so will we age.

Several nutrition and health experts maintain that it is possible to biologically slow the aging process and reduce the risk for several chronic diseases simply by eating foods that blunt cellular damage.

"There's a difference between chronological and biological aging. You can't stop chronological aging, but we do have some control on the way we live our lives as far as biological aging," says David Grotto, registered dietician, and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

Renowned dermatologist and best selling author Dr. Nicholas Perricone takes it a step further, claiming a facelift is "in the fridge." "The right diet certainly decreases your risk of all age-related disease such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but it can also make a great difference in the skin very rapidly." (Watch more ways to slow down the aging process. Video)

Grotto and Perricone agree that the best foods to slow the aging process contain high amounts of antioxidants. These chemicals ease intracellular inflammation -- a bodily process you can't see or feel, but which goes on all the time. "Because of the inflammation, the cell doesn't function correctly. It doesn't produce enough energy, you can't expel waste, and you can't get in nutrients properly," Perricone explains.

The long-term effects of cellular inflammation? Those you can see. "You see it in the brain, premature senility," says Perricone. "In the arteries, it's arteriosclerosis. In the skin, it's sagging and wrinkling."

Many foods high in antioxidants can be found in the produce section of the supermarket. "I tell patients, eat anything that ends in the sound 'erry,' says Grotto. He's talking about fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries. "Red and blue dark-pigmented fruits have high antioxidant potential," Grotto says. "Eating these is like throwing a bucket of water on inflammation."

Perricone seconds the idea of eating berries. He says the anti-aging diet should also include cold-water fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, brightly colored vegetables and fruits, and "good" sources of fats, such as olive oil and avocado. "Stay away from starches and sugars, because they are pro-inflammatory," Perricone adds. And substitute green tea for coffee.

As registered dietitian Lola O'Rourke puts it, "The real simple answer is eat less processed foods and more whole foods -- more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It gets boring to hear that, but it's true."

It may also get boring to hear that eating too much is bad for you -- but it is: "Eating less is so important because excess weight is a factor in chronic disease," O'Rourke says. She likes a saying they have on the Japanese island of Okinawa: Eat only to the point of 80 percent full. The so-called Okinawa diet is named after the island, where an unusual number of centenarians live in extraordinarily good shape.

Americans are living longer, but Grotto says we're not necessarily living well: "Maybe we're living longer, but do we have less disease? The answer is 'no.' Deaths from cancer are down, but the diagnoses for cancer and heart disease are up. I define life as quantity and quality." What good is living to 100, Grotto says, if you're spending all those extra years running to the doctor?

Nutrition isn't the only answer to slowing down the biological clock and looking our best. Reducing stress is another, says Perricone. "We recommend moderate exercise, meditation, tai chi, qigong, prayer, anything you can do decrease that type of daily anxiety we face." What else does this dermatologist recommend for good-looking skin? Cut out smoking, drink plenty of water and, of course, don't forget the sunscreen.

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