By 2050, the nation’s elderly population will more than double to 88 million, according to the US Census Bureau, and the more frail, over-age 85 population will quadruple to 19 million. Currently, Florida ranks first in the United States in the population percentage of full-time and seasonal residents over the age of 65.
As the population continues to age, and as many of us advance into retirement, consuming a healthier diet can go a long way toward helping us to live a longer and healthier life.
Some of these foods (along with little evidence-based complementary advice) can assist us in that effort. Thanks to WebMD for much of the content, which focuses on factors of potential support for a longer, healthier life.
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Antioxidants and aging
Free radicals are molecules that can damage healthy cells. They can make you more likely to get certain diseases, like cancer, and speed up aging. Foods rich in antioxidants can help fight those molecules. Colorful vegetables and fruits are packed with them, so aim for five to nine servings of those each day.
These are a great source of antioxidants and may help prevent cancer and some brain diseases. Frozen berries have them, too. Check out the grocery store’s freezer case and enjoy them year-round.
This tasty “good” fat can help boost your memory and help fight inflammation. One study also showed that olive oil helps lower levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) without affecting “good” cholesterol (HDL).
It’s been called “brain food” because its fatty acids, DHA and EPA, can help your brain and nervous system work the way they should. Eating fish one or two times a week may also make you less likely to develop dementia. Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, like salmon or trout, can lower “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. It can also help ease the inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis, when fatty deposits clog your arteries.
Add these nutritional powerhouses to your diet three or four times a week. The fiber may help with digestion and help lower your chances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And because they make you feel full longer, a diet high in fiber may help you lose weight, too. Top a salad with chickpeas, or use beans in place of meat in soups.
Veggies have fiber, antioxidants and loads of vitamins and minerals that may help protect you from chronic diseases. Dark, leafy greens have vitamin K for strong bones. Sweet potatoes and carrots have vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes and skin healthy and protects against infection. In one study, men who ate 10 or more servings of tomatoes a week lowered their chances of prostate cancer by 35%.
Nuts are packed with cholesterol-free plant protein and other nutrients. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which can help lower the risk of stroke in women, and pecans have antioxidants. The unsaturated fats in walnuts can help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. But nuts aren’t fat-free. One ounce of almonds — about 24 nuts — has 160 calories. So enjoy them in moderation.
Beverages fortified with vitamin D, like milk, help your body take in and use calcium. That’s especially important if you’re likely to have osteoporosis, or thinning bones. Vitamin D may also help lower your chances of colon, breast and prostate cancers. Eat yogurt with live cultures to help with digestion.
Adding these to your diet may lower your chances of certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The fiber also can help prevent digestive problems like constipation and diverticular disease. Choose whole-grain breads and pastas, and brown or wild rice instead of white. Drop barley into soups, or add plain oatmeal to meatloaf.
Eat like the Greeks
People who live near the Mediterranean regularly include olive oil, fish, vegetables and whole grains in their meals, along with an occasional glass of red wine. Instead of salt, they use spices and herbs to flavor their foods. This “Mediterranean diet” can be good for heart health, and it may lower your chances of mild memory issues and some kinds of cancer.
Stay a healthy weight
Some people find it hard to keep weight on as they get older, especially after an illness or injury. A couple of ideas are having smaller meals with healthy snacks in between, and switching to whole milk instead of skim. Don’t fill up on foods that are high in sugar or fat, or you won’t get the nutrients you need.
Lose weight for better health
Shedding extra pounds can put less pressure on your joints and less strain on your heart, and may lower your chances of diabetes. It can be harder as you get older, though, because you’re usually less active and you lose muscle. Go with proteins like lean meats, tuna or beans, and eat more vegetables, whole grains and fruits.
Note that the information provided is meant to be a guide and not as a specific prescription of what to do. Please consult a qualified health professional and seriously consider advice from a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN), as they are the best qualified health professionals knowledgeable in the area of healthier diets.
Some additional resources to gain more in-depth knowledge on potentially beneficial foods can be accessed in the following:
• Read WebMD’s piece entitled, “Foods for a Strong Heart, Brain, and Bones” at: webmd.com/healthy-aging.
• Review the Eating Well article entitled, “9 Foods Associated With Living Longer, According to Research” at eatingwell.com.
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D., has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 35 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.