Sometimes, it can seem like aging comes with a lot of stern warnings. A routine check-up with a doctor may end with a reminder that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases as we age. For women, an appointment with their gynecologist may include a lecture about the importance of prioritizing bone health after menopause to minimize the risk of osteoporosis. And then there’s the stubborn fat around the middle that won’t seem to go away, even though you’re eating better than you did in your 20s.
Here’s the good news: While we certainly can’t control everything about our health as we age, there’s a lot we can control by having healthy habits in place. When it comes to diet, certain foods can benefit the body in many ways, mitigating the risk of all the things doctors warn us about in every corner. The reverse is true too: certain foods can negatively impact health, including increasing the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments.
With this in mind, there are specific foods and drinks registered dietitians say people over 50 should eat rarely, if at all.
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What Not To Eat or Drink If You’re Older Than 50
As a registered dietitian and diabetes educator, Jenna Appel, RDN, believes that no food should be off the table completely. Not only is deprivation a pretty miserable way to live, but it also doesn’t work the vast majority of the time. However, there are certain foods and drinks that she recommends that people ages 50 and older should minimize because they can cause health to deteriorate if consumed in excess.
The biggie: sodas. If soda is something you drink every day, Apple says that swapping it for sparkling water with fruit can greatly affect your health for the better. This is because soda is high in added sugar, which is horrible for health in virtually every way. Scientific studies have shown that regularly consuming soda is linked to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes. Soda is bad for brain health too, increasing the risk of stroke and dementia.
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Unfortunately, diet sodas that use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar aren’t good for health either. Regularly drinking diet soda still increases the risk of health conditions including type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
In addition to minimizing soda, registered dietitian and founder of Eat Right 4 Life Jacklyn Gaylis Kirschen, MS, RD, says that it’s important for people over 50 to minimize highly processed foods like sugary snacks, refined grains and high saturated fat meals. “[These types of foods] are usually high in sugar, unhealthy fats and sodium,” she says. “They often lack the fiber, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need for optimal health and are calorically dense, which means they can lead to weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure, and other risk factors for chronic diseases.”
Processed pastries, candy and fast food all fall into Kirschen’s “foods to minimize” category. Apple says it’s also a smart idea to read the nutrition label and ingredients list for condiments, a sneaky source of added sugar and sodium.
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What To Eat Instead
Now that you know what foods and drinks to minimize, what should you fill your plate with instead? Kirschen recommends following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern—especially if supporting heart health is one of your primary health goals. “That means building your meals around fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats,” she says.
Apple recommends prioritizing protein and healthy fats in particular, which helps with hormone balancing (especially beneficial for menopausal women), keeping blood sugar levels steady, and reducing inflammation. Avocados, nuts and seeds, and olive oil are all foods she recommends for people over 50.
Both dietitians emphasize that the key to maintaining healthy habits is to focus on all the delicious, nutrient-rich foods you can eat instead of focusing on the nutrient-poor foods that don’t bring much to the table—and even those foods that are still okay to enjoy in moderation. There is certainly no shortage of foods bursting with flavors that fit within the Mediterranean style of eating and are good sources of protein, healthy fats and other nutrients.
If this way of eating is new to you, both dietitians recommend slow, gradual changes instead of trying to completely change the way you eat all at once. Maybe you start by switching out the soda you have every day for lunch with sparkling water with fruit three days a week. Or task yourself with learning one new Mediterranean diet-approved recipe a week.
“Diet culture is a real thing and we’re all constantly surrounded by it. That’s why it’s so important to practice mindful eating, set realistic and sustainable goals, make gradual changes over time, find nutritious foods that you actually like to eat, plan and prepare to make your life easy, practice self-compassion and give yourself grace, celebrate non-scale victories, and get support and accountability,” Kirschen says.
By crowding your plate with nutrient-rich foods and minimizing those high in sugar and sodium, you’ll be benefiting your health in myriad ways—and you’ll likely experience those benefits for many, many years to come.
Next up, find out which specific foods can help you live longer, according to a major 36-year scientific study.