Aging is inevitable. The so-called fountain of youth? Sadly, just a beautiful fantasy. Still, you can exert some control over your decade-by-decade destiny. By following a healthy lifestyle—that is, eating a nutrient-packed diet and staying active throughout life (or starting right now)—you can help slow the aging process and perhaps even stave off age-related chronic diseases, including osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease. While basic nutrition needs remain pretty constant throughout life, requirements for specific nutrients may increase—or decrease—slightly as you get older. Also, as we age, caloric needs drop, making it ever more important to pack your diet with the good stuff—vegetables, fruits and whole grains, for example—and limit less-healthy treats. The nutrition experts at EatingWell recommend the following eating tips for healthy aging.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other plant-based foods are rich sources of phytochemicals, beneficial compounds that may help protect against age-related conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older people. Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans and the remaining one-third or less with lower-fat sources of protein, like fish, poultry or lean meat. Choose vegetables and fruits that represent a rainbow of colors: dark leafy greens (e.g., kale and spinach), deep yellow and orange vegetables (e.g., corn and sweet potatoes), tomatoes and other red foods (e.g., bell peppers, strawberries) and blue and purple powerhouses like blueberries and purple grapes.
As you get older, your body loses lean body mass (muscle) and your metabolism, or the rate at which you burn calories, slows. Bottom line: Through the years, you’ll need fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. Stay within a healthy range by filling up on lower-calorie nutrient-packed foods—particularly vegetables and fruits—and cut back on foods that contain a lot of fat or added sugars. Carrying around extra pounds can increase your chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems and some cancers.
Eating some fat is important for health but certain fats are better than others. Vegetable oils like olive or canola are your best choices because they are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and low in the saturated fats that are associated with increased risk for conditions including heart disease and cancer. Limit foods that are high in saturated fats: animal products like fatty red meats and full-fat dairy products.