The older you get, the more you need to focus on your diet. Living a long and healthy life is about being happy, having good friends, avoiding stress, and keeping up with your doctor’s appointments, but a massive part of that equation takes place at the dinner table.
Learn how to make smarter food choices and you can age healthily.
Eat with Family and Friends
It’s often said that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world, leading to an increased life expectancy and reduced rates of heart disease and cancer. Along with copious amounts of olive oil, fresh vegetables, legumes, and beans, a key part of this diet is to eat with friends and family.
Many Mediterranean families eat around the dinner table with big bowls of vegetables, fish/meat, and side dishes in the center, and everyone helps themselves. This is something that doesn’t always translate into American culture, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but something that plays a key role in keeping you healthy.
When you eat with loved ones, you’re less likely to binge and overindulge. Your mood will also be boosted, and a happy eater is a healthy eater!
Drink Lots of Fluids
It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Dehydration can do serious harm to your skin, hair, and even your organs. While much of this harm is often exaggerated, it’s still completely unnecessary when you consider how easy it is to fix.
Getting your share of liquids every day will reduce your risk of harm and keep problems like dry skin at bay.
It’s often said that you need 6 to 8 glasses of water per day, but what many recommendations omit is that you get most of this from food. If you eat whole food, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, you’ll likely get most of the water you need to survive and will only need to top it up with one or two glasses.
On the other hand, if you’re eating lots of processed food or you’re on a calorie-controlled diet, you may need to increase your water intake to some degree.
Drink when you’re thirsty and drink when you eat. Tea and coffee count toward your daily requirement, but you should avoid soda and limit your alcohol intake. A little fruit juice every now and then is okay but treat it like a soda and not a healthy drink. Contrary to what you might have been told, drinking juice is not like eating fruit.
Juice contains none of the fiber or digestive enzymes found in fruit, which means you’re giving yourself a huge injection of concentrated sugar without giving the slow-digesting fiber the chance to do its job.
Eat More Whole Foods
Whole foods are a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and everything else that your body needs. A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as whole grains, legumes, seeds, beans, and nuts, will give your body most of the nutrients it needs and ensure you stay healthy as you age.
“Whole” doesn’t have to mean “raw,” however. While a lot can be said for the benefits of a raw food diet, it’s much easier and tastier if you cook your foods and, in most cases, you can get just as many nutrients this way.
If you find that you can’t shop very often and notice that your fresh food often expires before you can eat it, just buy frozen instead. Fruits and vegetables are often frozen soon after they are picked, and this helps to lock those nutrients in. They’re also much cheaper and easier to store for long-term use.
Taste the Rainbow
Before you get excited, that’s not an invitation to gorge yourself on Skittles. Instead, it means you should focus on eating as many varied colored fruits and vegetables as you can.
Eating a variety of colors is one of the easiest ways to get all of your essential nutrients. Oftentimes, the color of a fruit or vegetable is indicative of its nutrient composition. Not only are color pigments the result of unique antioxidants, but they also hint at certain vitamins and minerals.
Here is a quick rundown to give you an idea:
- Yellow and Orange: High in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Potassium. Also contains antioxidants like Zeaxanthin
- Red: A great source of the powerful antioxidant Lycopene, as well as countless others
- Green: Green vegetables get their unique color from chlorophyll and are often high in protein, fiber, calcium, folate, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A
You don’t have to worry about counting macro or micronutrients. Simply eat a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day and vary the colors as much as possible.
Don’t Take a Chance
If food has stayed open in the fridge for too long or there is some questionable mold on your bread, get rid of it. When you’re young, you can take a chance, knowing that your body can deal with it. As you age, though, you become more vulnerable and are one bad decision away from a serious gastrointestinal illness.
Look for Alternatives
If you find it harder to chew than you used to, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid healthy foods and stick with high-sodium, highly-processed alternatives. Rather than eating raw or lightly cooked vegetables, boil them until they are soft or add them to a stew or soup. If you have an issue with apples and pears, stick with bananas, mangos, raspberries, and other soft fruits.
It’s easy to give up and opt for the simplest and tastiest option, but poor dental hygiene is no excuse not to eat healthily.
Use Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are packed full of antioxidants and minerals. They also possess anti-inflammatory properties. Adding lots of these flavorsome ingredients to your food will boost your nutrient profile but it will also make your food taste significantly better.
As we age, we lose many of our taste buds and everything begins to taste a little bland. That’s why we begin to appreciate the stronger tasting foods that we hated as children, from mature cheeses to curries and spices.
Restore some flavor to your food and your mouth and give yourself a shot of nutrients at the same time.
Using apps like MyFitnessPal and Cronometer, you can record everything that you eat on a daily basis. It will also keep track of all your macronutrients and micronutrients. It will tell you whether you’re eating enough calories and protein, whether you’re consuming too much salt and saturated fat, and if you have any major deficiencies that you need to address.
These apps are free and are hugely beneficial for your health, so start using them and reaping the benefits today!
Check Your Nutrient Levels
Last but not least, speak with your doctor, run some tests, and check your nutrient levels. For instance, are you deficient in calcium, iron, or Vitamin B? They’ll tell you if you’re getting enough of what you need and can recommend supplements if you’re not.
Assuming you’re using a nutrient tracker mentioned above, you may be getting all of the nutrients you need from the food you eat, but medications, medical problems, and other issues can prevent all of these from being absorbed properly. That’s why it’s important to get checked.