The 1 Food You Should Eat More Of As You Age

Tip: It's in this bowl.

Tip: It’s in this bowl. GMVozd via Getty Images

Every decade of our lives feels a little different. Many of us are familiar with having boundless energy in our 20s, even after four hours of sleep and a few margaritas, and with needing a lot more sleep (and less alcohol) in our 30s. From the moment we’re born, our bodies and nutritional needs change — so it makes sense that we need more and less of certain foods as we age.

Certain foods may be helpful for energy levels as we age, explained Kimberly Gomer, a registered dietitian and former director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center. But nutrition can also play a key role in disease prevention. “The single most important factor in all disease, whether it’s heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity or dementia, may be rooted in inflammation,” she said. “The way that inflammation responds in our bodies seems to intensify as we age, leading to illness and stress. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, along with eliminating inflammatory foods, is key to maintaining great physical and mental health as we age.”

The One Food You Should Eat More Of As You Age

If you’re looking for a specific food that can improve your health, the experts we spoke with recommended opting for a high-quality fatty protein, namely salmon. “Fatty fish, like salmon, are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid),” which are long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, explained Dr. Kevin Cooke, a board-certified family physician who specializes in longevity and brain performance medicine. “Older adults should aim to include these in their diet at least twice a week to increase omega-3 intake, which supports brain health and reduces inflammation.”

Gomer added that we need protein for muscle maintenance and strength, and healthy fat for hormones and fat-soluble vitamins. “As we age, we naturally lose muscle — if we don’t use it, we lose it,” she said. “And as we age, there are many things that can happen in our lives that make us less active and less motivated to build and maintain muscle. All of our cells, including our brain cells, need healthy fats to function. If we don’t provide them, we can have physical and cognitive problems.”

Edwina Clark, a certified dietician, added that if salmon isn’t your thing, other high-quality protein sources include skinless poultry, eggs, and tofu. It’s especially important for people 65 and older.”Research indicates that the optimal protein intake for the elderly is 1-1.2 grams [per kilogram of body weight]which is higher than the general adult recommendation of 0.8 grams per day,” she said. With that in mind, any of the foods listed can be useful in helping you meet your needs.

Other foods to add to your plate

While it’s definitely a good idea to eat more protein and healthy fats as you age, Cooke noted that leafy greens, like kale or spinach, are also smart additions, especially if you don’t eat a lot of them now. “Leafy greens are high in lutein, zeaxanthin and other antioxidants,” he said. “They’re also a great source of B vitamins, like folate, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B6, which are important for healthy brain function.”

Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants.Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants.

Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants. Tuncmemo via Getty Images

Clark also recommends pomegranates.Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants for fighting oxidative damage and contain a group of compounds called ellagitannins,” she said. “Ellagitannins are converted by gut bacteria in some people into something called urolithin A, and urolithin A has been shown to offset some of the effects of aging, including muscle loss. Pomegranates are also a rich source of fiber…and help regulate blood sugar levels, promote feelings of fullness, and protect against colon cancer.”

How the nutritional needs of men and women differ

Men and women have different nutritional needs at different stages of life, including as they age. “Men generally need higher protein intake to maintain muscle mass, which can decline with age,” Cooke says. “They also tend to have higher calorie needs due to greater muscle mass and higher metabolic rates, although these needs decline as they age. Zinc is particularly important for men because it supports prostate health and immune function.”

For women, calcium and vitamin D are crucial for maintaining healthy bones, especially after menopause, when the risk of osteoporosis increases. “Iron needs decrease after menopause, but it remains important for energy levels,” Cooke says. “Folic acid is essential for cognitive and cardiovascular health. Additionally, phytoestrogens, found in soy products, may help ease symptoms of menopause.”

What about supplements?

It seems like supplements are everywhere these days, so you might be wondering if you can use them to fill in any nutritional gaps. While it’s not yet certain how effective supplements are, Gomer said, in many cases they can’t hurt — as long as you take a food-first approach.

“If someone has a known deficiency, it’s always better to use food first, because the nutrients in food are generally better accepted and absorbed by the body,” she said. “But sometimes a supplement is needed. That should be taken when a baseline lab test is first done, and then the right supplement and dosage will be determined. For example, many of my clients have low vitamin D levels, which is difficult to obtain from food alone, so a supplement can be helpful.”

While nutrition can feel more complicated as we get older, it doesn’t have to be. Rest assured that if you’re eating salmon a few times a week and also eating a few handfuls of leafy greens, you’re in pretty good shape.


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