No matter your age, eating well is essential for maintaining good health. The foods you eat can impact your heart and brain health and your ability to ward off chronic disease. From protein to vitamins, here are some tips for eating well as you age
Choose a balanced plan
Forget about fad diets – we know they don’t work. Instead, choose a well-researched eating plan that you can stick with for life, such as the Mediterranean, DASH or MIND diet.
The plans are all similar: they are filled with fresh foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts and lean protein, while limited in processed foods, baked goods, salty snacks and sugary beverages.
These eating plans have several benefits. Research has connected them to reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
- The Mediterranean diet is suitable if you have high cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease. Studies show that it can help lower bad LDL-cholesterol, while increasing good HDL-cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- The DASH diet is specifically good for lowering blood pressure and heart disease risk, and has a special focus on nutrients that affect blood pressure, such as sodium, potassium and calcium. Reducing blood pressure can lower your risk of stroke by 40% and of heart attack by 15%.
- The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, with emphasis on foods that have specifically been linked to brain health. It is proven to reduce Alzheimer’s risk and cognitive decline. It also protects your heart health.
Bonus: You don’t have to choose one diet over the other, since the foods recommended are so similar.
Get enough protein
As we age, we naturally lose strength in our muscles – it’s a condition called sarcopenia. Staying physically active is an important way to keep muscles strong, but so is getting enough protein. If your breakfast is tea and toast or lunch is a simple salad, your protein intake may be too low.
Emerging studies indicate that we actually need to increase protein intake as we age, because it can help reduce the risk of stroke, and keeps muscles strong, which helps prevent falls and fractures. Aim for 25-30 grams of protein at each meal. And a steak at dinner isn’t enough; you need protein throughout the day. Canada’s Food Guide recommends to choose protein foods that come from plants more often.
Here are some high protein foods to consider at meals and snacks:
*75 g = size of a deck of cards
Watch your nutrients
While all vitamins and minerals play vital roles in the body, here are some that are extra important for those 50 and older.
- Vitamin B12: Your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 begins to wane as you age, even with a healthy diet. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin B12 status. They can prescribe vitamin B12 supplements, fortified foods or injections if necessary.
- Vitamin D: Helps your body absorb calcium to maintain healthy bones, and also ensures your muscles, nerves and immune system work properly.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant vitamin plays a role in maintaining immune function. Make sure to include a ¼ cup of nuts or seeds in your diet on most days. That’s the best way to get vitamin E, since high-dose supplements are not recommended.
- Magnesium: With a role in preventing plaque formation on arteries, magnesium helps protect you against heart disease. Some people fall short, so check with your doctor.
- Potassium: This mineral helps regulate blood pressure. It’s mostly found in fruit and vegetables, so fill half your plate with fresh produce at every meal.
- Learn more about healthy eating to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Try our dietitian-approved recipes.