December 8, 2021

Heal Me Healthy

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The Definitive Guide to Healthy Eating in Your 50s and 60s

9 min read

Turning 50 is a huge, exciting milestone for many people.

It’s also a time when our bodies begin to change — and so do our nutritional needs.

By maintaining a balanced eating pattern that emphasizes key nutrients, you can improve your odds of healthy aging to continue living a dynamic, active lifestyle.

This article provides an in-depth guide to healthy eating in your 50s and 60s.

While aging is inevitable and normal, you can take steps to encourage healthy aging. The main goal of this effort is to extend the number of healthy, active years you have. In many cases, you can live a very active lifestyle well into your late adulthood (1).

Numerous factors affect healthy aging, such as (1):

  • diet
  • physical activity
  • health conditions and medical history (including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and mental decline)
  • genetics
  • social support
  • smoking and substance use
  • access to quality medical care

In particular, nutrition plays a major role in healthy aging by reducing one’s risk of chronic disease, age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia), weakened bones (such as in osteoporosis), malnutrition, and underweight or overweight status (1).

Summary

Healthy aging involves extending the number of healthy, active years of your life. While there are many factors at play, following an overall nutritious eating pattern certainly helps.

During your 50s and 60s, it’s important that you get enough of several key nutrients on a daily basis.

Protein

Eating enough protein helps build and preserve lean muscle mass, which is important for an active lifestyle, a strong metabolism, and proper immune health (2, 3).

High protein foods include:

  • lean meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • tofu
  • eggs
  • tempeh
  • beans and lentils
  • nuts and seeds
  • dairy products

While the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight, most research suggests that adults over 50 require more (3, 4, 5, 6).

In fact, you may need close to 0.5–0.9 grams per pound (1.2–2.0 grams per kg) to preserve muscle mass and support an active lifestyle. For instance, someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) would need 75–135 grams of protein per day (3, 4, 5, 6).

Most people can get enough protein from food alone. If you struggle to get enough or you need a quick protein source, you can try using protein powder or a supplement such as Ensure or Boost.

Fiber

Eating fiber promotes healthy bowel movements and digestion, supports heart health, slows sugar absorption to stabilize blood sugar levels, and helps maintain a healthy weight (7, 8).

High fiber foods include:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • whole grains such as oats, brown rice, popcorn, and barley
  • beans and lentils
  • nuts and seeds

The RDA for fiber is 25 and 38 grams per day for women and men, respectively (7, 8).

Most people can get enough fiber from food alone. Your doctor may suggest a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil.

Calcium

Calcium is a key mineral for bone health, nerve function, and heart and muscle contraction. Sufficient calcium intake may help prevent bone-related disorders such as osteopenia and osteoporosis (9, 10, 11).

High calcium foods include:

  • dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • leafy greens, except for spinach
  • fortified beverages, including soy and almond milks

Since postmenopausal individuals have a higher risk of osteoporosis and don’t absorb calcium as efficiently, they need an average of 1,200 mg per day, while other populations need around 1,000 mg per day (9, 10, 11).

It’s best to obtain calcium through food, but you can also find it in many multivitamins.

If your doctor recommends a calcium supplement, it’s best to split the dose to increase absorption — for example, by taking two 500-mg supplements at different times instead of one 1,000-mg supplement (9, 10, 11).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone and immune health. Low levels are associated with greater risk of mental decline, frailty, poor heart health, depression, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer (12, 13, 14, 15).

Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies can produce it from sun exposure. That said, too much sun exposure may be dangerous, so try to get this vitamin mostly from supplements or foods such as dairy products, mushrooms, egg yolks, and fatty fish.

Because food sources of this vitamin are limited, it’s generally recommended to take a vitamin D supplement of 600 IU or greater after age 50. Your doctor may recommend higher doses based on your personal needs and geographical location (12).

Omega-3 fatty acids

Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower rates of mental decline and neurological disease — such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — as well as better brain, heart, and skin health (16, 17, 18, 19).

Food sources of omega-3 fats include:

  • fatty fish (including salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and herring)
  • nuts and seeds
  • oils (such as flaxseed oil)
  • algae

Keep in mind that fatty fish and algae are the main sources of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the omega-3s linked to the most health benefits (16).

Nuts, seeds, and oils are usually high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 that your body converts into EPA and DHA in small amounts (16).

The RDA for ALA is 1.1 and 1.6 grams per day for women and men, respectively. There is no general recommended intake for EPA and DHA, though a minimum of 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day is a good goal (16).

If you don’t eat fatty fish 2–3 times per week, speak with a healthcare professional about taking a fish- or algae-based omega-3 supplement.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin plays a key role in energy metabolism, red blood cell production, DNA repair, immune function, and brain and heart health. After age 50, your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 declines, so it becomes even more important to get this vitamin in your diet (20, 21).

Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as well as in fortified breakfast cereals. Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan eating pattern may be at risk of low B12 levels (21, 22).

Adults over 50 should aim to consume 2.4 mcg per day of vitamin B12 (22, 23).

Your doctor may advise you to take a B12 supplement if you have low levels, are vegetarian or vegan, have anemia, or have other medical conditions that reduce B12 absorption, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease (22, 23).

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that you need to get through your diet. Sufficient potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Further, it helps support healthy bones (24, 25).

This mineral is found in many food sources, such as:

  • vegetables and fruits such as bananas, durian, raisins, Medjool dates, guava, peaches, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, and leafy greens
  • whole grains
  • dairy products
  • nuts and seeds
  • meat and poultry

The RDA for potassium is 2,600 mg and 3,400 mg for women and men, respectively. Most people can get enough through food and should supplement only under the supervision of a doctor, since getting too much potassium can be life threatening (24, 25, 26).

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help neutralize free radical compounds that may lead to oxidative stress — one of the main contributors to aging and chronic disease. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E and minerals such as zinc, copper, and selenium (27, 28, 29, 30).

The best food sources of antioxidants include (31, 32):

  • colorful fruits and vegetables
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains
  • dark chocolate
  • coffee and tea

There’s no general recommended intake, and there’s little evidence to support taking an antioxidant supplement. Instead, try to consume antioxidant-rich foods at every meal (32).

Summary

Nutrients to focus on in your 50s and 60s include protein, omega-3 fats, antioxidants, potassium, calcium, fiber, and vitamins B12 and D. Always speak with a healthcare professional before taking new supplements.

To help your body age well, you may want to make some small changes to your eating pattern.

Eat mostly whole foods

Aim for a diet of mostly whole, minimally processed foods, including the following:

  • fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread
  • proteins such as lean meats, poultry, fish, tofu, and eggs
  • healthy fats, including nuts, seeds, avocados, and certain oils

Try to limit ultra-processed foods, which are usually high in calories, salt, saturated fats, and sugar and low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. High intake of these foods is linked to an increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, and other chronic conditions (33, 34, 35).

Keep in mind that not all processed foods are off the table. Canned beans, yogurt, canned fish, fortified breakfast cereals, natural peanut butter, hummus, and low sodium tomato sauce are minimally processed but pack a ton of nutrition — and are convenient to boot.

Eat vegetables at each meal

Filling half of your plate with vegetables is an easy way to add extra nutrition to each meal.

Vegetables are rich in many important nutrients, such as fiber, potassium, vitamins, and antioxidants. Furthermore, they’re very filling yet low in calories, which may aid weight management (36, 37).

Choose water as your main beverage

A habitually high intake of sugary beverages is associated with increased weight gain, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes (38, 39, 40).

Regularly choosing water as your drink may lower your intake of simple sugars and “empty calories,” or foods and drinks that provide no nutritional value.

Other great beverage choices include coffee, tea, dairy milk, plant-based milk, and flavored water.

Plan ahead

If you have a busy schedule, planning your meals ahead of time is a simple yet highly effective way to eat a nutritious diet.

Once a week, try to plan your meals for the entire week by writing out a schedule, batch cooking, or following other meal-planning techniques. Doing so may help you buy the right groceries, prevent food waste, and reach your health goals.

You may also want to check out meal-planning companies that prepare personalized meals based on your health goals and dietary needs, such as PlateJoy.

Summary

To maximize your nutrient intake in your 50s and 60s, focus on whole, minimally processed foods; fill half of your plate with veggies; drink mostly water and other low sugar beverages; and stay organized by planning ahead.

Since the day you were born, your body has continued to change and evolve based on your age, environment, and lifestyle. As you reach your 50s and 60s, you’ll want to pay attention to several important changes.

Muscle loss

Age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, involves the gradual decline in muscle mass as you age (41, 42, 43, 44).

At age 40, you lose an average of 8% of your muscle mass every 10 years. By age 70, this rate increases up to 15% per decade (41).

However, you can slow this process through healthy lifestyle practices, such as following a protein-rich eating pattern and engaging in regular strength training (41, 42, 43, 44).

Bone loss

As you age, your risk of osteopenia — or age-related bone loss — increases.

To maintain their strength, your bones undergo a natural cycle called osteogenesis. During this process, bones are broken down by special cells called osteoclasts and then rebuilt more strongly by cells called osteoblasts (45, 46).

Over time, this process becomes less effective, meaning that your bones cannot rebuild as quickly or efficiently. This leads to bones weakening over time, which may result in decreased mobility and a higher risk of falls (45, 46).

Slowed metabolism

A landmark study found that your metabolic rate stays relatively stable from 20–60 years of age but slowly begins to decline after 60 as a result of a decrease in muscle mass and other age-related factors (47).

As you reach your 50s and 60s, focus on preserving your muscle mass through physical activity and good nutrition. These practices may also prevent excess fat gain, too much of which is tied to an increased risk of chronic disease and accelerated aging (48, 49).

Summary

As you age, you begin to lose some of your muscle and bone mass, and your metabolism starts to slow. Regular exercise and sufficient intake of protein and other nutrients may help delay these processes.

As you reach your 50s and 60s, paying close attention to your nutrition becomes especially key to your overall health.

The foods you eat can help promote good health and slow down age-related changes to your body, such as a sluggish metabolism, muscle loss, and bone loss.

In particular, try to consume a diet rich in protein, healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants while focusing on whole, minimally processed foods. You may also benefit from taking a multivitamin or other supplements as advised by a healthcare professional.

With small changes to your diet, you can ensure you’re thriving for years to come.

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