Healthy aging involves more than just changing your diet. Once you pass 50, your body goes through some changes, and as a result, there are a few adjustments you’ll need to make. Your approach to exercise, for example, probably needs to shift. And you’ll need to ditch the unhealthy habits you developed when you were younger to support better health into your later years.
But regardless of your other habits, eating healthier after 50 goes a long way. Eating nutrients that prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia is crucial, and eating the foods you need to preserve the strength of your bones can help prevent injury.
Proper nutrition is important at any age, but if there’s a time to make changes, it’s now. It’s never too late to start taking care of yourself — and the effects of neglecting to do so might feel more noticeable now that you’re older. Here are some diet changes you might want to make after you turn 50.
Many people think that cutting carbs is good for you, but that may not be the case. When you cut carbs from your diet, your body reacts in a number of strange ways. But even if you regularly eat smaller amounts of carbs, you may want to eat more of them as you get older — but we don’t just mean white bread. Whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread and quinoa have fiber, which is important not only for keeping your digestion regular, but also for keeping your heart healthy.
Once you pass 50, you’re at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. To prevent cognitive decline, neurologists recommend eating lots of healthy fats from foods such as olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. Not only are these foods good for your brain, but they have some other surprising benefits, as well!
If you don’t eat when you’re hungry, your metabolism begins to adapt to slow down the use of energy in your body. Aging already slows down your metabolism naturally — you don’t want to fall into a habit that makes it even slower.
People often think that trying a new trendy diet is no big deal, but these diets can have some serious consequences. “Avoiding fad diets is a good idea at any age!” Chelsey Amer, a registered dietitian and owner of Chelsey Amer Nutrition, told The Daily Meal. “Quick fixes that are overly restrictive usually harm your metabolism, which naturally slows as you age.” Registered dietitian and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition” Julieanna Hever warns that many of these diets encourage unhealthy habits, such as the elimination of healthful foods or eating all you want of other foods regardless of disease risk.
Buying canned beans and vegetables can be a cheap and easy way to get a healthy dinner on the table, but you might not want to buy them often. Canned foods often have added sodium, which can be damaging to your blood pressure and your heart. Some cans may also contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which according to the National Institutes of Health has been linked to negative health effects in animal studies. Though most cans are no longer made with BPA, a 2016 study found that some canned fruits, vegetables, pastas and soups still contain toxic BPA. The Mayo Clinic advises checking the recycling code on the container, since those with codes 3 or 7 are more likely to contain BPA.
In addition to being an enjoyable hobby, cooking meals at home can improve your health. “As individuals pass their 50th birthday, high blood pressure becomes much more common,” Stefanski explains. “Too much sodium can raise blood pressure in certain individuals. Cooking meals at home can significantly cut down on salt in your diet.” Salting lightly and using spices to add flavor to food can help you avoid sending your blood pressure through the roof.
Calcium is one of the most important nutrients in your diet. However, many people don’t get enough of it, especially if they cut back on dairy. Calcium helps prevent osteoporosis (which affects more than 200 million Americans), in addition to helping support the functions of your heart, lungs and white blood cells. If you don’t like drinking milk or eating yogurt, know that there are other ways to add more calcium to your diet. This mineral is also found in soy, fortified juices and plant-based milks, beans, fortified cereals and broccoli, in addition to many other healthy foods.
“It’s all too common to fall into a pattern of skipping meals as a way to control your weight,” says Amer. But this approach is misguided. “The problem is that this often backfires later in the day and can lead to overeating at dinner (and well into the evening).” Additionally, skipping meals can affect your metabolism, blood sugar and mood. “Instead of skipping meals, try to tune in to your hunger cues and honor them!” Amer says.
Drinking in moderation may not harm your health (though some studies suggest even moderate drinking could be an issue), but drinking too much can do some very real damage. Alcohol, like some foods, can increase your risk of cancer. Excessive drinking can also cause negative effects to your blood pressure, your heart health and your brain health. The healthiest form of alcohol to imbibe is a single glass of red wine, which can provide antioxidants.
A key, and often overlooked, aspect of your health is hydration. Drinking enough water helps you digest food properly, absorb nutrients and keep your cells healthy. Additionally, hydration can help fight the signs of aging to your skin. Here’s how much water you really need to be drinking each day, according to nutritionists.
Fast food can be a convenient and inexpensive way to get dinner on the table, but don’t get in the habit of eating it all the time. While there are some surprisingly healthy options, fast food tends to have few vegetables and lots of sodium and saturated fat. Some fried food items at fast food restaurants also contain trans fats, which can pose serious health risks.
One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need is to eat a variety of foods. “Just as vegetables vary in color, the nutrients within them are significantly different,” Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics says. “If you’re always buying one or two types of veggies, consider taking a chance on something new. When you increase the diversity of your diet, your body benefits from different vitamins and minerals working together to fill the gaps in your health needs.” Stefanski recommends starting with a small change — simply add a new vegetable or two to your shopping list. Try a new recipe and see how it goes, then expand from there.
There’s more to your health than just what you eat. Your mental health is important, too. Stressing about food and your body can do some very real damage to your physical health. Stress can have scary effects on your body. Spending time stressing over and feeling guilty about what you ate will only worsen your health outcomes in the long term.
Shellfish, white fish and fatty fish such as salmon all are great sources of different nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish can help promote brain health and ease inflammation, and white fish is a healthy, lean source of protein. Eating more seafood may also help protect against cancer.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “eat the rainbow” a thousand times, but it’s actually really good advice. Colorful produce is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, some of which give these foods their bright hues. Orange foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots, for example, have lots of beta-carotene. This nutrient helps maintain your eyesight. “Emphasizing a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices will provide innumerable phytonutrients and types of fibers, as well as vitamins and minerals, that all work synergistically to protect your health,” Hever says.
All fruits and vegetables are beneficial, but leafy greens are especially important to incorporate into your diet. They provide vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as some B vitamins, and are one of the foods highest in antioxidants that help protect against cancer. You’ll also find lots of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium in every serving. You can eat leafy greens as the base of a salad, but that’s not your only option. There are many ways to cook meals with greens — you might add them to a soup, roll them into a wrap or sautee them into an omelet.
Fruit makes a great snack any time of the day, and it’s a good idea to get into the habit of eating more of it. Fiber from fruit can help keep your digestion regular and, according to some studies, prevent colon cancer. Some fruits have more antioxidants than others, but most have a good amount of these cancer-fighting compounds. Eat a variety of fruits to get all of their unique benefits. Blueberries, for instance, are good for your brain and bananas can help lower your blood pressure.
As you get older, your risk for high blood pressure increases. Some risk factors for hypertension are out of your control, such as genetics and air pollution. But others are things that you can take care to avoid or change. For instance, your eating habits play a large role in your blood pressure. Certain foods, some of which you may not realize contain surprising amounts of sodium, can send your blood pressure soaring.
What you eat is important, but how you spend mealtimes makes a difference in your health, as well. Studies show that people who keep in contact with their loved ones live longer than those who feel isolated. Pick up the phone and call a friend! If you live with family, sit down together and enjoy conversation while you eat your meals.
Of all the foods recommended by doctors, olive oil is one of the most studied and has some of the strongest evidence behind its benefits. Not only is olive oil good for preventing cognitive decline and supporting brain health, it’s also good for your heart and can help prevent heart disease. You can cook with olive oil or drizzle some over salad or other vegetables. Different types of olive oil are best for different types of cooking, but there’s really no wrong way to add olive oil into your diet.
Some people eat too much protein, but others don’t eat enough. As you get older, it becomes increasingly important to give your body the amino acids it needs. “We naturally lose muscle as we age,” Stefanski says. “This condition, known as sarcopenia, can be helped by including regular physical activity, along with including a small amount of protein at each meal.” Stefanski explains that this can also help to balance blood sugar. “Protein does not raise blood sugar as quickly or as greatly as foods high in sugar or options from the grain group,” she says. If you do eat something with a lot of carbs, balance this with a protein-rich food and some healthy fats.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds that can help prevent free radicals from being released in your body. Free radicals, which cause damaging inflammation, are always present, but having larger amounts of them has been linked with diseases such as cancer. The more antioxidants you get from your diet, the safer you will be from this effect. The good news is that antioxidants are likely present in many foods that you enjoy, such as fruit, nuts and even red wine.
You may feel that you just don’t have the same energy that you used to. Eating a nutrient-rich diet can help you feel more energized, and is a better plan for your health than just guzzling caffeine. B vitamins in particular can help — this nutrient is used to convert the energy you get from food into usable fuel for your body. If you have a vitamin deficiency, you may feel sluggish and drained or experience other unpleasant symptoms. The best way to get enough B vitamins is to eat foods that contain large amounts of it, which include whole grains, beans, lentils, leafy greens, broccoli and nuts.
Garlic is a great way to add flavor to your food without adding too much sodium, and it comes with other health benefits as well. People have been taking advantage of its medicinal qualities for centuries: The allium is full of disease-fighting antioxidants and can reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease. Here are some easy ways to add more garlic to your diet.
Probiotics can help to boost your gut health, which is more important than you might think. Gut health promotes other aspects of your health, as well. This is because the healthier your digestion, the more nutrients you’re able to absorb from your food. People with healthy gut bacteria are also less likely to have other diseases later in life. You don’t have to take an expensive probiotic supplement to stay healthy — there are many foods containing probiotics you can add to your diet.
People often sabotage their own goals by trying to change too much all at once. Making sweeping, all-or-nothing changes to your lifestyle and diet sets you up for failure at making a change that sticks. Instead, focus on making smarter small changes that still make a big difference. Try making a goal like “eat one more serving of fruit every day” or “cook dinner at home twice a week.” Whatever aspect of your health you’re looking to improve, there’s a small step you can take.
In an attempt to eat healthier or follow a new diet plan, some people will force themselves to eat foods that they don’t actually enjoy. They might opt for a low-sugar brownie, for example, instead of the dessert they really crave, or force down a kale smoothie every morning for breakfast. However, science shows that if you don’t enjoy a food while you’re eating it, you actually absorb fewer nutrients. Eating foods based on nutrition alone without accounting for enjoyment is a diet mistake you’re probably making.
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