Eating right can help you age gracefully and healthfully — and sometimes all it takes to make smarter diet choices are just tiny tweaks. Consider these healthy-aging helpers:
Don’t let “low-fat” sabotage your diet.
As you age, your metabolism slows, and so your calorie needs decrease. Since fat packs almost twice as many calories as carbs or protein, gram for gram, aiming to eat a lower-fat diet can be a smart move. But keep in mind that many “low-fat” or “fat-free” products — even healthy ones like yogurt — often contain added sugars, which bump up the calorie content. Read labels.
Have a tuna sandwich.
Dietary guidelines suggest eating fish — particularly omega-3-rich types like tuna and salmon — twice a week for heart health. What’s more, some research shows that people who consume more omega-3 fatty acids from fish have a reduced risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 50. Canned light tuna is an easy option. Mix it with low-fat mayo or a little Greek yogurt and enjoy with whole-grain bread or crackers, or simply plop it on top of a green salad and dress it up with some heart-healthy vinaigrette.
Add an apple, and a glass of water, to your meal.
Unfortunately, constipation often becomes more common as you age — but filling up on fiber and fluids can help improve digestion. Water and fiber are two main components of fresh fruits (which provide disease-fighting phytonutrients too). Whenever possible, add a side of fruit, and a cup of water, to your meal. To get the best variety of nutrients, go for a colorful mix: berries, oranges, grapes, pears, watermelon — whatever you like best!
Start the calcium count in the morning.
The risk for osteoporosis — a condition characterized by brittle bones — increases with age, but getting enough calcium (1,200 mg per day is the recommended amount for people over 50) can help reduce your risk. Get close to this goal before lunchtime by including a cup of calcium-fortified orange juice at breakfast and having a cup of low-fat yogurt for a mid-morning snack.
Pick an age-appropriate multivitamin.
There’s a legitimate reason for age-specific vitamin-mineral formulas: our nutrient needs change with age. For instance, after menopause, women need only 8 mg of iron each day (same as what men need) — that’s less than half of the recommended intake of the mineral for women of childbearing age. Too much iron (a concern if you’re taking the wrong supplement) can be harmful, particularly for people who have hemochromatosis, a genetic condition that causes a buildup of iron in the body’s organs. If you’re taking a multivitamin that includes iron, check to see that it doesn’t exceed your recommended 8 mg.
Write what you bite.
If middle-aged spread seems to be creeping on, try writing down what you eat in a food journal. Studies show that people tend to consistently underestimate what they eat. Keeping track can give you a more accurate idea of how many calories you’re consuming, and also help you see where you might cut back.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)
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