Many guys look back at their younger years and think 'man, I wish I hadn't smoked, made SPF my enemy, or spent my 20s downing booze like a drunken idiot.' Indeed, these behaviors do ugly things to your body, both inside (cancer and heart disease) and out (spare tires and wrinkles). But it's never too late to undo some of the damage.
Luckily, you can be proactive in repairing the damage by eating foods that are rich in antioxidants, which can help neutralize free radicals and repair and prevent cell damage that may lead to premature aging and cancer. Of course, prevention is most effective. So slap on your sunscreen, stub out the smokes—and pile your plate with these super-foods.
The Bad Habit: Working On Your Tan
Your Nutritional Redemption: Broccoli and dark chocolate
Foods that are rich in antioxidants not only destroy free radicals (which may prevent damage that can lead to skin cancer) but they also act as an enzyme, speeding up cell turnover (which may reduce wrinkles). In fact, a 2007 John Hopkins University study found that applying a topical broccoli sprout extract prevented the effects of ultraviolet damage. And a recent British study found a similar effect with eating dark chocolate.
"While eating broccoli and dark chocolate is no substitute for using sunscreen, antioxidant-rich foods like these appear to have a restorative effect on cells," says Lisa Tartamella, R.D, a sports nutritionist at Yale University.
The Bad Habit: Eating Like Chris Farley
Your Nutritional Redemption: The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts—making it low in "bad" fat and cholesterol and high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats.
"If you're overweight, a Mediterranean diet can help with weight control. Plus, this diet has plenty of research behind it that shows it can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol," says Tartamella.
For an extra boost of cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, Tartamella suggests choosing products that are enriched with them, like Benecol (a type of margarine) and certain orange juices.
The Bad Habit: Lighting Up
Your Nutritional Redemption: Red Wine
Last year researchers at Kaiser Permanente found that people who had smoked (at any point in their life) were less likely to develop lung cancer if they drank one glass of red wine versus abstaining. For those you don't like their Merlot, red grapes, which are also rich in flavonoids, have also been linked to lower cancer rates. Other flavonoid-rich foods are citrus fruits, parsley, onions, berries, dark chocolate and tea.
Additionally, "cruciferous vegetables are rich in another type of phytochemical, isothiocyanate, which has been shown to prevent against lung cancer," says Tartamella. So load up on broccoli, cabbage, wash it down with some vino, and for goodness sake, ditch the cigs.
The Bad Habit: Drinking Like A Rock Star
Your Nutritional Redemption: Coffee
A slew of studies have shown that moderate drinking aids cardiovascular health. But if you've spent years trying to drink Pete Doherty under the table, you may be on your way to liver cirrhosis. Obviously, you'll want to stop the binge drinking and swap the liquor store with a stop at Starbucks. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that men who drank coffee had a lower chronic liver disease rate than those who didn't.
"For people who are heavy drinkers, drinking coffee was associated with a lower precedence of some liver enzymes associated with cirrhosis," says Tartamella, who adds that, by far, cutting back on heavy drinking is the best way to boost your liver health. Cheers.