As we get older, it’s not just our wardrobe and taste in music that change. After age 30, our metabolism begins to gradually decline, which means we have to be even more selective about the foods we eat. There’s less room for empty calories from sugary drinks, desserts, and snacks, and greater demand for foods with a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio. At the same time, many people develop a greater appreciation for healthy eating as they age, and they’re on the hunt for multitasking foods that can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and protect against diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Eating a variety of whole foods really is the key to a healthy diet, but some foods — including those highlighted below — offer more nutritional bang for your buck than others. Powerhouse ingredients like beans and leafy greens supply much-needed vitamins and minerals and help the body stay metabolically fit, making them terrific everyday staples for the 50+ crowd. That’s not to say that these foods come with an age limit. Whether you’re 4 or 94, these picks provide premium fuel to energize your body.
There aren’t any big surprises or trendy ingredients on this list, and that’s completely intentional. All of these featured foods are relatively affordable and readily available, which means their health benefits are well within reach.
I’m a bean fanatic, so if you read my blog regularly, you won’t be surprised that these guys made the list. Research shows that eating a daily serving of beans or lentils (3/4 cup) can help to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 5 percent. Another study in people with type 2 diabetes found that eating about a cup of beans or lentils per day as part of a healthy diet lowered hemoglobin A1c, a marker of blood sugar control, by 0.5%, which is a substantial improvement. Need a simple way to introduce more beans into your diet? Toss canned, low-sodium beans with whole-grain pasta and sauteed veggies for a quick weeknight meal, or try some of these other easy ideas.
The risk for heart disease increases dramatically in men over 45 and women over 55, so incorporating more cholesterol-lowering foods like oats into your diet is a smart move. Oats are rich in a type of soluble fiber called beta glucan, and consuming at least 3 grams of this fiber a day (equivalent to 1.5 cups cooked oatmeal) has been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels by 5 to 10 percent. People who eat oats and other whole grains regularly are also at reduced risk of dying an early death. Plain oats are cheaper than boxed cereals and a perfect conduit for other healthy ingredients, like nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Sure, they’re not as glamorous as acai berries or mangosteen, but apples are every bit as super as exotic fruits, and much, much cheaper. A large apple supplies 5 grams of heart-healthy fiber, and research shows that eating apples daily can lower both total and LDL cholesterol to help keep your ticker in tip-top shape. A 2013 study found that frequent apple eaters are at lower risk for type 2 diabetes. And the good news is, you can find apples almost everywhere, including gas stations and convenience stores. Slice one up and add a smear of peanut butter for a classic snack that never gets old.
Snacking on nuts instead of chips, crackers, and cookies is an easy way to give your diet a major upgrade. A 2013 randomized controlled trial conducted in Spain found that eating an ounce of mixed nuts daily as part of Mediterranean-style diet reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease by 28 percent. And don’t forget that peanuts count, too — they’re equally healthy, but cost about half as much as almonds and other tree nuts. Another easy way to get in a daily serving: Use chopped, toasted nuts as a garnish for roasted vegetables or whole grain sides like brown rice and quinoa.
- Leafy Greens
Piling on the spinach, kale, collards or other leafy greens at meals may help to keep your mind sharp as you age. People who ate one to two servings per day had the same cognitive ability as people 11 years younger who rarely ate greens, according to research presented last month at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting. Cooking greens doesn’t have to be complicated. For a hassle-free side dish, pick up a bag of baby spinach and saute the leaves whole in a drizzle of olive oil with optional chopped garlic. Heads up: If you take the blood thinner coumadin, you don’t have to give up greens completely; talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication to allow for small portions every day.
You also want to get your fill of berries, another potential brain booster. Strawberries, blueberries, and their sister fruits are rich in phytochemicals that may help slow age-related memory decline by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing harmful inflammation. These findings are still preliminary, but regardless of future research results, berries are a healthful choice given their high fiber and vitamin content. Fresh berries aren’t always an affordable option, but you can find large 2- to 3-pound bags of frozen varieties at supermarkets for around $10 year-round. Add a scoop to plain yogurt, oatmeal, homemade muffins, or even the occasional bowl of ice cream to give your diet a berry boost.
Eating adequate protein spread throughout the day may help to preserve muscle and slow the gradual decline in lean body mass that occurs as our bodies mature. Yogurt, especially Greek varieties, can provide a generous dose of high-quality protein at breakfast and snack time, the times of day when we tend to eat carbier meals. Cow’s milk yogurt and fortified non-dairy versions are also good sources of calcium, a nutrient that women over age 50 and men over age 70 need in larger quantities to maintain bone health. And the beneficial bacteria that give yogurt its tang may help to nourish the gut, too. To keep added sugar to a minimum, buy the plain stuff and doctor it up with healthful mix-ins like fresh or dried fruit, nuts, seeds, whole-grain cereal, or (for a treat) dark chocolate chips.