When we were younger, we could eat whatever we wanted without worrying much about the consequences.
That changes as we get older, and not just because our metabolism slows down. Diet is an important part of remaining healthy and strong, feeling good, and being able to do whatever we want — no matter our age.
If this sounds like the future you want for yourself, get started with our guide to proper nutrition after 50.
Contrary to popular belief, avoiding carbs is not smart. Your body needs to burn carbs to give you energy. And a certain kind of carbs called fiber is important for your digestive health and to increase fat burning.
The trick is to choose the right kind of carbs.
Simple carbohydrates are classified as simple sugars whose chemical structure has only one or two sugars. Examples of these include:
- Processed table sugar
- Products with white flour
- Fruit juice
- Packaged cereals
Some of these foods (such as fruit) may still be good for you for the fiber and other nutrients they contain.
Complex carbohydrates are those with a chemical structure made up of three or more sugars. These types of sugars are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They take longer to digest and don’t elevate blood sugar levels as quickly as simple carbs do, thus leaving you satisfied for longer and less likely to overeat.
People who eat complex carbs instead of simple carbs are less likely to experience blood sugar surges and crashes, which contribute to cell damage.
Typically, complex carbs are found in whole grain breads and cereals, vegetables, and many legumes.
Don’t assume that this information is only important to those with diabetes. When carbs have a high GI (over 70 on the GI scale) and convert to sugar in your bloodstream quickly, they are quickly metabolized and leave you hungrier more quickly than low-glycemic foods. Even for people with no issues with diabetes, this cycle plays a significant role in healthy eating and weight management.
You’ll also want to consider glycemic load (GL), which combines both the quality and the quantity of carbs to compare their blood glucose values.
|Low GI||Medium GI||High GI|
|Low GL||All-bran cereal|
|Med GL|| Apple juice|
Sourdough wheat bread
| Baked russet potatoes|
Data from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
[Related: Choosing the Right Foods After Age 50]
Protein is the most basic building block of the human body and is essential to our immune systems, hormones, tissue repair, metabolism, and building and preserving muscle.
[Related: How Muscles Change With Aging]
Your body burns more calories to process protein than it does carbs or fat, making protein a good choice for weight management. Good protein sources also help manage our blood sugar levels and keep cravings at bay.
Like with carbohydrates, different types of protein exist. While these types are not inherently bad or good, you should be aware of the differences in order to consume in modification when necessary.
Animal sources of protein — such as eggs, dairy, poultry, and red meat — tend to contain saturated fat, which can increase the LDL cholesterol present in your blood. (This is the kind of cholesterol people refer to when they say to “watch your cholesterol.”)
As LDL cholesterol builds up, it can create blockages in the arteries that obstruct blood flow, leading to heart disease. To keep your LDL cholesterol levels in check, avoid consuming too many whole-milk products and fatty meats.
Studies have linked red meat to type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
Although you don’t need to cut out read meat entirely, you should eat it in moderation, especially if it has been processed. Deli meats, sausage, bacon, and hot dogs are of particular concern.
To avoid saturated fat, stick to lean meats and dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free. You can also opt for skinless turkey and white-meat chicken instead of fattier meats.
Check labels and make sure the package indicates that the meat is “lean.” Many people assume that ground turkey is healthier than ground beef, but it can actually contain just as much saturated fat. Ground turkey breast is a much better alternative.
Meat isn’t the only kind of food that contains protein — whole grains, nuts and seeds, soy products, and beans are also high in this essential nutrient.
Beans are a filling addition to any meal, as they combine their protein with high amounts of fiber. For example, just half a cup of garbanzo beans contains 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.
Nuts are a great source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in addition to providing between 3 and 7 grams of protein per ounce.
Here’s another surprise: Fat is an important element of a healthy diet. However, as you might have guessed by now, certain kinds of fats are better than others, and moderation is key.
You should also be aware that low-fat versions of products often include extra sugar, salt, and additives to make them taste better. Find out what’s in the products you’re buying, and don’t blindly trust labels.
Saturated fats are fat molecules that are saturated with hydrogen molecules, and thus do not have any double bonds between their carbon molecules. As we explained above, saturated fat has been linked to increased levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood and, consequently, heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to 5 or 6% of your total calorie intake.
Foods that contain saturated fat include:
- Poultry with skin
- Fatty beef
- Beef fat (tallow)
- Cream and lard
- Dairy products made from whole or 2% milk
Monounsaturated fats contain just one double bond between their carbon molecules. These fats help keep your cells healthy and lower bad cholesterol, preventing heart disease and stroke.
Foods with monounsaturated fats include:
- Nuts, including cashews and peanuts
- Sesame seeds
- Peanut butter
- Cooking oils, such as sesame, olive, and canola oil
- Spreads that are labeled as “high oleic”
Polyunsaturated fats have more than one double bond between their carbon molecules. Despite this variation from monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats also help to lower bad cholesterol.
Foods that contain polyunsaturated fats include:
- Cooking oils, such as safflower, soybean, and corn oil
- Seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Nuts, such as walnuts and pine nuts
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are important for cell growth and brain function, are also present in certain kinds of polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fats have been shown to increase good cholesterol (HDL) and lower triglyceride levels.
The following foods contain omega-3 fatty acids:
- Seeds, such as chia and flax seeds
- Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, herring, and salmon
- Algae, such as nori, spirulina, and seaweed
[Related: Guide to Weight Loss for Baby Boomers]
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals allow your body to grow and work the way it should. Different vitamins and minerals have different roles, such as preventing infections, maintaining healthy nerves, helping your blood clot properly, and helping your body extract energy from food.
Eating a well-rounded diet should ensure that you get enough vitamins and minerals, but as you get older, you may have to find ways to supplement certain nutrients. Ask your doctor whether you are getting enough vitamins and minerals through your current diet, and which ones you might be lacking. If necessary, you can increase your intake of certain foods or take supplements.
There are 13 different kinds of vitamins, all of which are important for proper nutrition.
|A||Kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots|
|B1 (Thiamine)||Beans and whole-grain, enriched, and fortified products such as cereals, pasta, and bread|
|B2 (Riboflavin)||Fortified cereals, breads, milk, asparagus, almonds, cooked beef, dark-meat chicken|
|B3 (Niacin)||Fortified cereals, whole grains, fish, poultry, meat|
|B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||Fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, animal kidney and liver, milk, egg yolk, yogurt, mushrooms, legumes, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli|
|B6 (Pyridoxine)||Fortified soy-based meat substitutes, fortified cereals, bananas, baked potatoes with skin, eggs, spinach, peas, light-meat turkey and chicken|
|B7 (Biotin)||Egg yolk, liver, yeast, salmon, nuts and seeds, dairy, sweet potatoes, avocados, cauliflower|
|B9 (Folate)||Fortified grain products and cereals; garbanzo, kideney, lentil, and lima beans; dark leafy vegetables|
|B12 (Cobalamin)||Crabs, clams, mussels, salmon, poultry, beef, soybeans, and fortified foods|
|C||Tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, green and red bell peppers, spinach, cabbage|
|D||Fortified cereals, cheese, and milk; salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolks|
|E||Vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, and soybean), hazelnuts, almonds, and leafy green vegetables|
|K||Kale, parsley, chard, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, avocados, grapes|
The following are five of the most important minerals.
|Calcium||Broccoli, spinach, rhubarb, orange juice, soy milk, tofu, dairy products|
|Iron||Beans, tofu, meat, fish, poultry, baked potatoes, dark leafy vegetables, fortified and enriched products|
|Magnesium||Tuna, mackerel, salmon, cabbage, peas, broccoli, artichokes, green beans, brussel sprouts, asparagus, black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, nuts and seeds, kale, spinach, bananas, avocados, figs, raspberries|
|Potassium||Bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, watermelon, coconut water, white beans, black beans, edamame, tomato paste, butternut squash, potatoes, swiss chard, beets, dried apricots, pomegranate|
|Zinc||Meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, eggs, whole grains|
Drinking water is extremely important for your health. Water helps your body to:
- Maintain a normal temperature.
- Protect sensitive tissues, such as your spinal cord.
- Lubricate and protect your joints.
- Remove waste through perspiration, urination, and bowel movements.
Hydrating is also key to weight loss and maintaining a good metabolism.
As a general rule of thumb, men over 19 should drink 131 ounces a day, and women over 19 should drink 95 ounces. Some of this will come from foods that contain water, such as fruits and vegetables, but you’ll have to consume much of it the old-fashioned way: drinking H2O.
[Related: How to Stay Hydrated When Exercising]
To help yourself drink more water, keep these tips in mind:
- Opt for water instead of juice, soda, and other sugary beverages.
- Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day.
- Order water when eating out. (This will save you money, too!)
- Add fruit, such as a lemon or lime wedge, to your water to make it taste better.
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