Once you reach your 50s, it can be important to make changes to your diet and lifestyle that help you get the nutrients you need for later in life. As our bodies change with time, so should what's on your plate. And while you may have been able to scarf down a donut or two in your 20s without second thought, it can have a larger impact on your blood sugar levels and risk for diabetes and heart disease when you're older. Plus, if you are diagnosed with any health conditions that call for a change in eating habits, you'll need to adapt in order to manage and improve symptoms.
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Pictured recipe: Trapanese Pesto Pasta & Zoodles with Salmon
Even if you aren't told by your physician to change your diet, it's smart to make some changes on your own once you've reached your 50s. Here are 10 healthy eating habits to follow at this age point.
1. Eat More Complex Grains
Swap refined breads and pastas for complex carbohydrates and grains like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and oats. These hearty grains are great for your heart and provide sustainable energy (thanks to fiber) to power the brain and body. Grains like these will keep you full, and the fiber also helps to keep you regular.
2. Enjoy Fish
As you get older, you might be more susceptible to chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's and dementia and more. However, you can help lower inflammation in the body by getting omega-3 fatty acids, good fats that are found in fish. Aim to eat fish 2-3 times a week to get the benefits (try these 20-minute fish and seafood dinners). You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and a few other plant-based sources.
3. Keep Sodium Low
High sodium intake can raise risk of heart disease and hypertension, so you'll want to keep levels low in the day. Sodium limits go down at 50, from 2,300 mg to 1,500 mg per day. A good trick? Don't use that salt shaker when cooking and go for fresh herbs instead, which add flavor without the bloating effect or risk. Rinsing canned foods also helps lower sodium.
4. Eat High-Protein Foods
While getting protein is important at age any, the requirements are higher for adults in their 60s and up, as their muscles need that extra boost for strength and repair after activity and can't use protein to build muscle as efficiently as they could earlier in life. Even if you're not quite 60, protein-rich foods can help you stay full, so it's not a bad idea to be in the habit of eating a little more. Go for lean choices, like steak, fish, chicken breast, and turkey and fill up on plant-based options like tofu, lentils, and quinoa.
5. Get Cooking
Make eating out a fun occasional treat and stay in to cook at home for most days of the week. By having control over your cooking technique and recipe ingredients, you can ensure the meals are healthy and nutrient-dense, and you can avoid any excessive sugars, salt and oils that often go into restaurant meals.
6. Eat High-Calcium Foods
As you age, bone density lowers, so you need calcium-rich foods to build bone density to lower risk of osteoporosis, prevent fractures and injury, and keep bones strong and stable. For women, calcium needs jump at 51 from 1,000 mg/day to 1,200. You can also look to the Mediterranean diet, which might lower risk of osteoperosis, as well. It's packed with fish, veggies, some cheese, and grains, and it is lower in processed, high-sugar foods. Great calcium sources are milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, fortified non-dairy milks and eggs and leafy greens.
7. Ditch Sodas
Say goodbye to soda and sugary drinks and hello to water and unsweetened tea, both of which are hydrating without the sugar crash. If you need to start slow, swap one sugary drink for a water each day, working your way up to cutting sweet beverages out completely. And keep a water bottle on hand to refill every hour or so.
8. Eat the Rainbow
Look for bright colors to fill your plate, as that means you're getting lots of produce, such as veggies and fruit, that are good for your body as you get older. Load your plate with greens, oranges, reds, purples, and yellows, especially, as these have antioxidants to fight aging. Think: berries, sweet potato, leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers, melon, eggplant, beets, and squash.
9. Eat When You Are Hungry
While you don't want to eat mindlessly every hour or take in large portions for each meal, you should pay attention to hunger cues and eat when you're hungry. This not only nourishes your body but it can help keep your metabolism up (try these foods, which also help boost the metabolism). The metabolic burn slows naturally in time, so once you're in your 50s you burn fewer calories at rest than you did when younger. Keep your metabolism running all day long by fueling it every three or so hours and noshing on a snack when you need it.
10. Go for Whole Foods
In general, aim to eat whole foods, which are fresh or frozen, such as fruit and veggies, lean proteins, fish, and whole grains, to stay in optimal health. To keep convenience look for minimally processed whole foods such as canned beans and yogurt. Processed foods are often high in sodium, sugars, and excess calories, so you'll want to keep intake low.