To put together your own healthy diet, remember that “food works as a team,” says Joseph Gonzales, a Mayo Clinic-registered dietitian. “It takes an entire symphony to achieve a spectacular piece of music.” But if you add these seven foods to your orchestra, it will be easier for you to get a healthier tune.
Berries provide “broad nutrition” for those over 50 because they are high in fiber, vitamin C, and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant flavonoids. “Fiber helps us maintain regularity, control weight and protect ourselves from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” said registered dietitian Nancy Farrell Allen, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Men 51 and older should consume 30 grams daily, and women 50 and older should consume 21 grams daily.
The berries also appear to be good for the brains of older people. “Berries contain powerful antioxidants that can improve motor skills and short-term memory,” says Allen. This is why they are an important part of the MIND diet, which focuses on foods that fight neurodegenerative disability. (Other brain-friendly foods in this healthy diet include vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seafood and poultry.) A study from Tufts University last year looked at a 20-year diet for 2,800 people over 50 and found that those who ate few flavonoid-rich foods – such as berries, apples and tea – were between two and four times more likely to have dementia.
Dr. Alicia Arbaje, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, emphasizes the wild blueberry (often sold in the frozen section). “It has three to four times more antioxidants than the standard blueberry. Add it to your oatmeal and smoothies.”
2. Dark green leafy vegetables
“As we get older, our bones become softer and need calcium,” says Bernard of the NIA. “You can get it with low-fat dairy and dark green leafy vegetables.” We are talking about kale, arugula, broccoli and spinach, which are also high in fiber, seemingly boost muscle function and are heart healthy. An Australian study published in March in Journal of Nutrition (in English) found that people who ate a cup of nitrate-rich green leafy vegetables every day had 11% more strength in their lower limbs. Another recent study in Denmark looked at 50,000 people over a 23-year period and found that those who ate these vegetables had a 12% to 26% lower risk of heart disease.
Fish such as salmon, cod, tuna and trout are a source of low-fat protein, which older people need to maintain or regain muscle. Bernard recommends consuming five to six ounces of protein every day, be it seafood, poultry, nuts, seeds, soy products or low-fat meats. “We have studies that suggest older adults need to be careful about their protein intake because their bodies do not use protein as efficiently as middle-aged people.”
Fish is also a good source of vitamin B12, a nutrient found only in animal foods and one that becomes more difficult for us to absorb as we age. “Fish and shellfish also contain omega-3 fatty acids,” says Rosenbloom. “Two or three servings a week reduces the risk of death due to chronic diseases by about 17%.
4. Nuts and seeds
Not all nuts are created equal, but they are all good for you, says Rosenbloom. “They contain protein and fiber, and can make you feel full.” But do not overdo it: “Eat only a handful for a snack,” he says, “and you will not be hungry at dinner.” The daily recommendation of one ounce is equal to 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 35 peanuts and 15 pecans.
Nuts and seeds are also an important source of healthy fats. “Walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds contain ALA omega-3 fats, which are converted to EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids,” says Allen, noting that regular consumption of omega-3 fats especially helps you brain.