As we age, eating well can improve mental acuteness, energy levels, and resistance to illness. Nutrition tips for a healthy diet can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced. But healthy eating doesn’t have to be about dieting and sacrifice. Whatever your age, eating well should be all about fresh, tasty food, wholesome ingredients, and eating with friends and family.
Feed your body and mind
No matter your age or your previous eating habits, it’s never too late to change your diet and improve the way you think and feel. Improving your diet now can help you:
Live longer and stronger – Good nutrition boosts immunity, fights illness-causing toxins, keeps weight in check, and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, bone loss, and cancer.
Sharpen your mind – People who eat fruit, leafy veggies, and fish and nuts packed with omega-3 fatty acids can improve focus and decrease their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidant-rich green tea may also enhance memory and mental alertness as you age.
Feel better – Wholesome meals give you more energy and help you look better, resulting in a boost to your mood and self-esteem. It’s all connected—when your body feels good you feel happier inside and out.
Creating a healthy diet
The key to healthy eating is to focus on the whole, minimally processed food that your body needs as you age—food that is as close to its natural form as possible. Our bodies respond differently to different foods, depending on genetics and other health factors, so finding the healthy diet that works best for you may take some experimentation.
Fruit – Break the apple and banana rut and go for color-rich pickings like berries or melons. Aim for 2-3 servings a day.
Veggies – Choose antioxidant-rich dark, leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli as well as colorful vegetables such as carrots and squash. Try for 2-3 cups every day.
Calcium – Maintaining bone health as you age depends on adequate calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium a day through servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese. Non-dairy sources include tofu, broccoli, almonds, and kale.
Grains – Be smart with your carbs and choose whole grains over processed white flour for more nutrients and more fiber.
Healthy fats – Because fat is so dense in calories, a little can go a long way in making you feel full and keep you feeling fuller for longer. See The Fat Debate for more on how saturated fats may help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Protein – Adults over 50 without kidney disease or diabetes need about 1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight (0.5 g of protein per lb. of body weight is close enough).
Getting more high-quality protein in your diet
As you age, eating sufficient high-quality protein can improve your mood, boost your resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression, and even help you think clearly. However, eating too much low-quality protein from industrially raised red meat and processed meat products, such as hot dogs, bacon, and salami, may increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, or other health problems.
- Vary your sources of protein instead of relying on just red meat, including more fish, beans, peas, eggs, nuts, seeds, milk and cheese in your diet.
- Reduce the number of processed carbohydrates you consume—from foods such as pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies, and chips—and replace them with high-quality protein.
- Opt for cheaper cuts of organic, grass-fed red meat rather than expensive cuts of industrially raised meat.
- Try a “meatless Monday” each week—plant-based protein sources are often less expensive than meat, so it can be as good for your wallet as it is for your health. A “Fish Friday” can help encourage you to eat more seafood.
- Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace a baked dessert with Greek yogurt or swap out slices of pizza for a grilled chicken breast and a side of beans.
Nutrition tips … cut down on sugar and refined carbs
While our senses of taste and smell diminish with age, we retain the ability to distinguish sweet tastes the longest, leading many older people to consume more sugar and refined carbs than is healthy. Unlike complex carbs that are rich in fiber, refined or simple carbs (such as white rice, white flour, refined sugar) can lead to a dramatic spike in blood sugar, followed by a rapid crash which leaves you feeling hungry and prone to overeating.
Reducing the number of starches, candy, and desserts in your diet is only part of the solution. Sugar is hidden in foods as diverse as canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, frozen dinners, and many foods labeled “low-fat” or “reduced-fat.” All this hidden sugar contributes zero nutrients but lots of empty calories that can cause mood swings and wreck any healthy diet.
Slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time. You’ll give your taste buds time to adjust and be able to wean yourself off the craving for sweets and sugary food.
Instead of adding sugar, increase the sweetness of meals by using naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or yams.
Replace refined carbs with complex carbs such as oatmeal, beans, vegetables, and other high fiber foods. You’ll feel fuller, more satisfied, and have more energy.
Check labels and opt for “sugar-free” or “no added sugar” products. Use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods, and avoid fast food meals.
Don’t replace fat with carbs. Manufacturers often replace healthy sources of saturated fat, such as whole fat yogurt, with low-fat versions that are packed with sugar or artificial sweetener to make up for the loss in taste.
Avoid soda and sweetened coffee drinks. One can of soda contains 10-12 teaspoons of sugar and around 150 calories. Even artificial sweetener can trigger sugar cravings that contribute to weight gain. Instead, try switching to carbonated water with lemon or a splash of juice.