Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Food - The Secret of Youth

Helena Rubenstein, the great pioneer of the cosmetics industry, said you should never put anything on your face that you wouldn't put in your mouth, and how right she was. No amount of expensive lotions and potions will help stave off the relentless march of time and ageing, unless you're eating the right foods. And the key anti-ageing foods are fruits and vegetables.

Medical science has conquered the ravages of most infectious diseases, surgeons can give you a new heart or a new hip, drugs can keep you mobile as the joints begin to stiffen, sewage systems and safe drinking water have eradicated killer epidemics like dysentery and typhoid in the Western world, but all this is papering over the cracks. Ageing is a relentless march of nutritional deficiencies and in spite of worldwide population studies and major research in the most prestigious of university laboratories, the medical profession in general ignore the relevance of nutrition and it's anti-ageing function.

It's simple - every one of you can slow down and even reverse many of the body's natural ageing processes, and you'll not only feel better and look better, but you'll gain enormous protection against the scourges of heart disease and some cancers. All you have to do is eat more of the very specific foods that are richest in Nature's defensive chemicals, the antioxidants.

One of the world's leading nutritionists, Dr. Venket Rao, Professor of Nutrition at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, has been studying the role of antioxidants and their availability to the body's cells for the last five years. When I met him recently he said:

“We have repeatedly shown that the protective antioxidants are only valuable if they are biologically available to the body's cells. Oxidative damage is just like rust on a piece of iron. If you coat the iron with an antioxidant the surface remains perfect. In the body antioxidants have the same protective effect on every individual cell. We've studied chemically-induced cancers in human colon cells, bone loss, prostate cancer cells, breast cancer cells and long term dietary intervention in both bone health and prostate patients, and in all these areas the role of antioxidants like lycopene have been proved extremely effective.”

It's a group of chemicals called free radicals that attack our cells and they are mainly produced when the body burns up the oxygen we breathe to keep us alive. We're also subject to damaging free radicals that get into our system from the outside - smoking, environmental pollution, radiation, too much sunlight, and irritant chemicals that make contact with our skin. These free radicals are the very core of the ageing process, destroying our body cells one by one.

Our only protection are the antioxidants which attack and neutralise the damaging chemicals. And if you eat right, your body's level of antioxidants will be more than a match for the ever-hungry free radicals.

So where do we find the foods richest in these miracle chemicals? You find them at the greengrocer, in the street market, in your corner shop, in the supermarket or they may even be in your own back garden. They are present in simple, everyday, inexpensive fruits and vegetables. Of course all fruits and vegetables are good sources of the normal vitamins like A, C and E, but those that are deeply coloured - dark green, deep red, purple, yellow and bright orange - tend to have the highest levels of vitamins and minerals.

But it's the antioxidant properties in the pigments that colour these wonderful foods that are your best weapon against ageing. Researchers have identified around two thousand different pigments in plants, including 450 different carotenoids and 150 anthocyanidins. These are part of a family of chemicals called polyphenols which form the most powerfully protective group of natural food chemicals. With such vast numbers of important substances it's obvious that taking pills which contain just a few of the antioxidants is no match for eating complete foods which have them all. Though there are specific substances like betacarotene for the lungs, lycopene for heart and prostate, and lutein and xeaxanthine for eye protection that are valuable supplements.

The US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Ageing at Tufts University has been studying the role of antioxidants for some years now and they've invented a method of testing the antioxidant strength of different foods. What they measure is the oxygen radical absorbance capacity - ORAC - and they've produced a league table of high ORAC foods. The numbers represent the ORAC units in each 100 grams of the food and most experts agree that getting between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC units a day will have a huge impact on the body's ability to fight off the free radicals and reduce the risk of damage and ageing.



Prunes 5,570
Raisins 2,830
Blueberries 2,400
Blackberries 2,036
Garlic 1,939
Curly Kale 1,770
Cranberries 1,750
Strawberries 1,540
Spinach 1,260
Raspberries 1,220
Brussel sprouts 980
Plums 949
Alfalfa sprouts 930
Broccoli 890
Beetroot 840
Avocado 782
Oranges 750
Black grapes 739
Red pepper 710
Cherries 670
Kiwi fruit 602
Pink grapefruit 483
Onions 450
Sweetcorn 400
Aubergine 390


All of these foods in addition to their high ORAC value and their key anti-ageing properties are also some of the richest sources of other nutrients. Folic acid in kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli; vitamin C in blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, red peppers, oranges, cherries and kiwis; vitamin E in blackberries, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, avocado; iron in prunes, raisins, spinach, beetroot; bioflavonoids in pink grapefruit, oranges, cherries; natural antiseptics and antifungals in onions and garlic which also have cholesterol lowering properties.

Everyone must now know that five portions of fruit and vegetables a day - totalling approximately one pound in weight - is the minimum quantity needed for a good balanced and healthy diet. If you want to beat the ageing process make it six portions, at least two of which come from the high ORAC list. And it really is easier than you think, these mixtures will give you optimum high ORAC protection on a daily basis: -

2 oz prunes, and a tablespoon each of blueberries and raisins with your breakfast cereal, or

3 oz spinach, 3 oz brussel sprouts, and a salad with half a red pepper, a tablespoon of alfalfa and a tablespoon of broccoli florets with your midday meal, or

3 oz cooked baby beetroot, a large red pepper stuffed with sweetcorn, chopped onion and raisins and a bowl of cherries or strawberries with your evening meal

Boost your levels even more by using Californian ready-to-eat prunes and raisins as between meal nibbles during the day.

The high ORAC guide is your chance to protect your body from the visible and invisible effects of ageing. You can slow down the development of wrinkles and old looking, pitted skin. Protect your joints from arthritis, protect your nervous system from early dementia and senility. Reduce your risks of heart disease and increase your chances of avoiding many forms of cancer. My analysis of hundreds of my patients diets over the last few years shows that their average daily intake of ORAC units is just over 1,000 and even those on otherwise healthy diets tended to consume far more of the low ORAC fruits and vegetables. Although these provide more than adequate supplies of vitamins and minerals, they won't produce the maximum anti-ageing potential of the high ORAC foods.

You don't need a revolution in your eating, you don't need rigid or peculiar diets, you certainly don't need expensive pills and potions - just lots of the foods which look good, taste good and do the ultimate good. They'll prolong your active life. As the population ages and we all have greater life expectancy, there's no point in adding more years to your life unless you add life to your years.


Weight for weight prunes are by far the highest ORAC food, so here are a couple of my favourite prune recipes. There's an added bonus to prunes, you can use prune puree in place of fat when baking cakes, biscuits and desserts. I met the most famous Hollywood baker, Manny Niall - the stars queue up outside his bakery - who taught me this trick. Not only a high ORAC recipe but also low fat.


450 g / 1 lb stoned Californian prunes
juice of 2 organic unwaxed lemons
zest of one of the lemon
45 g / 1 and a half oz demarara sugar
small pinch salt
3 whites from guaranteed salmonella-free, free range eggs

Put the prunes in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak overnight. Remove stones from prunes and chop coarsely. Put all the other ingredients in a bowl, whisk till the mixture stiffens. Fold in prunes and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve with low fat natural yoghurt containing zest of the other lemon and quarter of a teaspoon of allspice.


100 g / 4 oz California prunes
100 g / 4 oz dried apricots
100 g / 4 oz dried figs
100 g / 4 oz dried apples


100 g / 4 oz wholewheat flour
50 g / 2 oz prune puree
25 g / 1 oz dark brown sugar
25 g / 1 oz hazelnuts

Soak fruit overnight if necessary. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until softened. Place in an ovenproof dish. Place flour in a bowl, rub in prune puree until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add sugar and nuts. Bake at 200 C (400 F) gas 6 for 25 minutes, serve with natural yoghurt.


300 g / 12 oz stoned cherries
1 apple
1 pear

Wrinkle Zapper is hugely rich in carotenoids, vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. It also supplies over 2,000 ORAC units in one small glass. It's not just your wrinkles that get zapped but starting your day with this delicious drink will wipe out free radicals you've accumulated overnight.


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