You might not feel like you’ve hit the half-century mark, but you’ve undoubtedly noticed your body changing as you turned 50. You might feel like you can’t bounce back as quickly as you did in your 40s, and your lifestyle might change because of it. Plus, you could have developed bad habits in the decades before that are just now showing.
Since you can’t turn the clock back, what can you do? Well, following the diet advice you heard in your 20s, 30s, and even 40s isn’t going to work now that you’re in your 50s. Your body functions differently now, meaning losing weight won’t work with those dated tips.
Your metabolism has changed, and you might have slowed down a bit. So doing things that might have worked years ago could actually cause you to gain weight. Or, since strenuous activity can lead to injury more quickly now, an intense workout could leave you in pain and inactive for days or weeks, only adding to the weight gain.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. There are plenty of ways to stay healthy and keep your waistline in check as you age. You just need to know what is best for your 50-year-old body, so you don’t get frustrated wondering why what you did in the past doesn’t work anymore.
That’s why we tapped some nutrition experts (and this author’s knowledge as a certified holistic health coach) to reveal the diet advice you should forget as you turn the big 5-0 to ensure you’re reaching your health goals.
Sweets are something that can be enjoyed in moderation at every stage of life, but you need to be smart about how you consume them. “You can offset some of the effects sweets have on your blood sugar by combining carbohydrates with foods that are high in fiber, protein, or fat, says registered dietician Stephanie McKercher. “Try dipping fruit in Greek yogurt or using whole-wheat flour to make your next batch of cookies.”
As you age, you’ll lose muscle, about 10 percent each decade after age 45. Why does this matter? “Because muscle burns more calories than fat, this muscle loss is often tied to weight gain,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. “I suggest focusing on adding more strength training into your schedule to help counteract age-related weight gain.”
As you get older, you might not feel as hungry as you once did. You could think that skipping meals would then help keep your weight in check. But it’s not the best idea. Eating consistently in moderation keeps your metabolism revving. You don’t want to go for big spikes or pitfalls. Eating small meals throughout the day is better than skipping one.
Carbs and fats aren’t the bad guys. Both nutrients are incredibly essential for our health, especially in your 50s. “Fats (found in foods like avocado, salmon, and walnuts) help us absorb nutrients and support brain health,” says McKercher. “Carbohydrate foods (like brown rice, fruit, and beans) give us energy and important vitamins (such as the B vitamins) that promote wellness in your 50s.”
You might be doing your best at following a healthy diet by watching your serving sizes. But a lot has changed over the years. “Don’t always follow a package’s suggested serving size, as it may be too large,” says Gorin. “Did you know that portions of food, for the most part, have significantly increased over the years?” For example, a standard bagel was 3 inches in diameter about 20 years ago — but today it is 6 inches! If you’re going to have that bigger bagel, think about scooping some of the breading out and topping it with cottage cheese and berries, instead of cream cheese.
This might have been a classic way you dropped some pounds in your teens, 20s, and 30s. But, there’s a lot more to metabolism than calculating calories in versus calories out. “Instead of getting caught up in the numbers, I suggest practicing mindfulness and learning how to pay attention to your body,” says McKercher. “If your body is telling you it’s hungry, you’re probably in need of some energy (food!).” Some signs to look out for include headaches, stomach aches, and difficulty concentrating.
You might have been told that your body has a harder time getting the nutrients it needs as you age. While that is true, you don’t want to rely entirely on supplements to get them. Instead, focus on foods that are rich in calcium, for example, rather than overdoing it on supplements. Too much calcium can lead to kidney stones. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the best dosage for all of your supplements and know that more is not better.
Your kid or niece might be raving about the latest diet trend, but they’re called fads for a reason: because they don’t last. “Diets like Whole30 and keto that limit or completely cut out foods that are very nutrient-rich aren’t what I’d recommend,” says Gorin. “For example, Whole30 completely cuts out pulses, which are beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dried peas. But pulses are high in cholesterol-helping fiber and also provide protein — and are a meal staple that I wholeheartedly recommend incorporating into your diet.” These diets also limit other foods. Whole30, for example, also cuts out whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and buckwheat. These grains offer so many beneficial nutrients, including fiber, that are important to the diet.
That raw vegan diet you tried years ago? Skip it. It’s true that some nutrients are lost during the cooking process, but this doesn’t mean you need to be on a 100 percent raw diet. “Cooked vegetables are often easier for your body to digest and absorb,” says McKercher. “I recommend including a variety of both raw and cooked fruits and vegetables to maximize the benefits of each.”
You want to be watchful of your sodium intake, especially as you get older. Why? “Sodium can increase inflammation, for one,” says Gorin. “Aim to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily.” That amount is lower if you have high blood pressure or pre-hypertension — in which case it should be limited to 1,500 milligrams daily. When you go grocery shopping, choose lower-salt versions of foods that tend to be higher in sodium, such as canned goods and frozen meals.
While you will gain weight if you have a poor diet, it’s not 100 percent the cause. As you age, other factors like activity and happiness come in to play as well. If you don’t change your diet but start to move less, you will likely put on some pounds. Loneliness can also lead to poor nutrition. So make sure you find a doctor who is looking at you holistically to determine what changes need to be made in your life aside from diet.
Your grandmother who lived into her 90s might swear by her nightly glass (or two) of wine each night. While there are some cancer-fighting antioxidants in wine, the adverse effects of drinking a lot of wine outweigh the positives. Since your body metabolizes alcohol differently than it did in your younger years, you are more likely to get a hangover after more than one drink. It’s OK to have some, but keep it in moderation and not as a nightly routine.
You might hear about young celebrities losing weight by cutting gluten from their diets. While that might have worked for some, it won’t necessarily work for you. “As long as you don’t have an allergy or intolerance, there’s no reason to eliminate gluten-containing foods, such as bread and pasta, from your diet,” says McKercher. “Instead, opt for whole grains whenever possible. They tend to be highest in nutrients and digestion-boosting fiber.”
They’re really not! You definitely want to avoid this ingredient at all times, especially over age 50. “This is because, for women, estrogen provides some protection against heart disease,” says Gorin. “After menopause, women are at a higher risk for heart disease. Trans fats also heighten this risk, raising your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, lowering your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and increasing your overall risk of heart disease.” Stay away from trans fats by reading ingredient labels to ensure that partially hydrogenated oil is not an ingredient.
Jennifer Aniston famously said she ate the same Cobb salad every day when filming “Friends” to maintain her figure. That might work when you’re younger, but not once you hit 50. “Vary up your protein intake — don’t always eat burgers and chicken breast,” says Gorin. “Aim for having at least two 3.5-ounce servings of cooked fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, or herring each week. The EPA and DHA omega-3s that the fatty fish contains can help keep your heart, brain, and eyes strong — so important as you age.” Some types of seafood are more nutritious than others; here is a complete guide to the healthiest and unhealthiest.
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