Healthy eating is important, no matter what your age, but it becomes even more important later in life. As you grow older, eating a healthy diet can help you live longer, stay mentally sharp, and can give you more energy.
We know what you might be thinking, but healthy eating doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the foods you love. Instead, it should be about enjoying delicious, fresh, wholesome food.
How Eating Healthy Can Affect Your Body
Whatever your age, the good news is that it’s never too late to change your diet and improve the way you feel. Eating healthy food can affect your body and overall wellness in several different ways:
- It can help you live longer: A healthy diet can boost immunity, keep weight loss in check, and ultimately help you live longer.1 Combined with exercise, a healthy, balanced diet can also contribute to increased independence as you age.
- It can help keep you sharp: Studies show that people who eat fruits, leafy greens, veggies, and fish may be able to improve their ability to focus and retain their cognitive abilities as they age.2
- It can help you feel better: Eating healthy, balanced meals can give you give you more energy and it can also help you look better, which can boost your self-esteem.3 It is all connected. When your body feels good, you feel happier inside and out.
How to Create a Healthy Diet
One of the biggest tips for healthy eating is to focus on whole, minimally-processed foods that your body needs as you age. Each person responds differently to different foods, so it may take some experimentation to figure out what works best for you and your body.
Something that usually works best for everybody is to include more fruits and veggies in their meals. The more colorful, the better! Choose antioxidant-rich dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach, and also colorful veggies like carrots and squash. Make them a little more appetizing by drizzling some olive oil on top or sautéing with some chili flakes. Try to eat two to three cups of vegetables per day.
Also, make sure to up your calcium intake. Maintaining bone health as you age depends on adequate calcium levels to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Good sources include milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Another helpful tip is to eat more fiber. Fiber can do so much more than just help to keep you regular. It can lower your risk for heart disease, improve the health of your skin, and help you lose weight. As you age, your digestive system becomes less efficient, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough fiber each day. Women over the age of 50 should aim to eat at least 21 grams of fiber per day, and men over 50 should try and eat at least 30 grams per day.
It’s important to keep caring for your gut health as you get older, too. The diverse communities of microbes that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract vary across the different stages of your life. While these fluctuations are usually pretty harmless, sometimes they can have significant effects on your health. Some of the more significant changes in your gut microbiome happen both at the start of your life and in more advanced age. These times are also when the immune system is at its weakest. For example, older people are more likely to be exposed to various drugs (including antibiotics), which can negatively impact the microbiome. They are also more likely to get GI infections and bowel conditions.5 That being said, taking a high quality probiotic supplement can help. Look for one that has been clinically tested, is viable (the live bacteria count should be guaranteed through the product’s expiration date, not just at the time of manufacture), does not require refrigeration (probiotics should be stable at room temperature and heat resistant), and is packaged in glass to avoid deterioration. It also may be helpful to select a probiotic that contains enzymes. Digestive enzymes help the body break down the main components of food like protein, fat, and carbs so that these nutrients can be absorbed.
Healthy eating is about more than just food though. It’s also about the pleasure of eating, which increases when you share a meal with those you love. You can make healthy meals more fun by grocery shopping with a friend, cooking with others, or getting a family member or friend on FaceTime so you can have a virtual dinner date.
- Sotos-Prieto M, Bhupathiraju S, Mattei J, et al. Association of changes in diet quality with total and cause-specific mortality. NEJM. 2017; 377(2):143-153.
- Gomez-Pinilla F. Brain Foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. National Library of Medicine. 2010; 9(7):568-578.
- BioMed Central. Healthy eating linked to kids’ happiness. ScienceDaily. December 13, 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171213220122.htm#:~:text=Healthy%20eating%20is%20associated%20with,adherence%20to%20healthy%20eating%20guidelines
- Erkkila A & Lichtenstein A. Fiber and cardiovascular disease risk: how strong is the evidence? National Library of Medicine. February 2006; 21(1):3-8.
- Asempa A & Nicolau D. Clostridium difficile infection in the elderly: an update on management. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2017;12:1799-1809.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.