Man sitting in front of bookshelf
Man sitting in front of bookshelf

Originally written by Alison Gwinn, expert with AARP

Whether you've been a healthy eater your whole life — or lately fallen off the nutritional wagon — it's important to take a hard look at your diet after age 50. Around that point, experts say, it pays to be choosier about your foods, and make sure you're getting enough nutritional bang for your buck. “Our need for energy declines starting in middle age,” says Christine Rosenbloom, registered dietitian and nutritionist, professor emerita at Georgia State University and coauthor of Food & Fitness Over 50. “There's less room for drinking a pitcher of margaritas and having a basket of chips — unless we want to start seeing that weight creep. And nobody wants that.”

To build your own healthy diet, remember that “foods work together in concert,” says Joseph Gonzales, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic. “You need a whole symphony for a spectacular musical piece.” But if you add these seven foods to your own orchestra, you're well on your way to a healthier tune.


1. Berries

Berries provide “one-stop nutrition” for the over-50 crowd because they're high in fiber, vitamin C and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant flavonoids. “Fiber helps keep us regular, manage our weight and protect against diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Nancy Farrell Allen, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Men 51 or older should eat 30 grams a day, and women 50 years or older should eat 21 grams a day.

Berries also appear to be good for our aging brains. “Berries contain potent antioxidants that may improve motor skills and short-term memory,” Allen says. That's why they are a key part of the MIND diet, which focuses on foods that fight neurodegenerative delay. (Other “brain-healthy foods from this brain-healthy diet include vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seafood and poultry.) A Tufts University study from last year looked at 20 years of eating by 2,800 people aged 50 or older and found that those who had a low intake of flavonoid-rich foods like berries, apples and tea were two to four times more likely to develop dementia.

Alicia Arbaje, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, singles out the wild blueberry (usually sold in the frozen food section). “They have three or four times the antioxidants of conventional blueberries. Add them to your oatmeal or smoothies."


2. Dark-green leafy vegetables

"As we get older, our bones become softer and need calcium,” says Bernard of the NIA. “That's something you can get from low-fat dairy and dark-green leafy vegetables.” We're talking kale, arugula, broccoli and spinach, which are also high in fiber, appear to boost muscle function and are heart-healthy. An Australian study published in March in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate just one cup of nitrate-rich leafy green vegetables every day had 11 percent stronger lower limbs. Another recent study from Denmark looked at 50,000 people over a 23-year period and found that those who ate these veggies had a 12 to 26 percent lower risk of heart disease.


3. Seafood

Fish such as salmon, cod, tuna and trout are a lean source of protein, which older people need to maintain or regain muscle. Bernard recommends shooting for five to six ounces of protein each day, whether it's seafood, poultry, nuts, seeds, soy products or lean meat. “We have studies to suggest that older adults need to be more sensitive to protein intake because their bodies are not as efficient at using protein as middle-aged folks."


Fish is also a good source of vitamin B12, a nutrient found only in animal foods that we have a harder time absorbing as we age. “Seafood also has omega-3 fatty acids,” Rosenbloom says. “Two to three servings a week reduce the risk of death for bulk chronic diseases by about 17 percent.”


4. Nuts and seeds

All nuts are not created equal, but all are good for you, Rosenbloom says. “They have protein and fiber, and they can make you feel full.” Just don't be greedy: “Eat just a handful as an afternoon snack,” she says, “and you won't be starving at dinnertime.” The daily recommendation of one ounce equals 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 35 peanuts and 15 pecan halves.

Nuts and seeds are also important sources of healthy fats. “Walnuts, flax meal and chia seeds all contain ALA omega-3 fats, which are converted to EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids,” says Allen, who notes that regular intake of omega-3 fats will help protect your brain, in particular.


5. Cottage cheese

It could be time to give these little high-calcium curds a permanent place on the weekly menu. “Cottage cheese is a great source of whey protein, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis,” says Rosenbloom. “Athletes know this — after a workout, they often have a shake based on whey protein. But instead of doing that, eat cottage cheese."


It is also high in calcium and vitamin D. “Our bones are like a bank, and after age 35, we start to lose bone density,” Allen says, “so adding calcium and vitamin D to our diet is essential for maintenance.” (What else helps bone health? Phosphorous, found in nuts, legumes, cereals and grains, and magnesium, in nuts, seeds, legumes and dark green vegetables.)


6. Beans and legumes

Why super? “Beans help reduce cholesterol,” says Gonzales. “They're loaded with fiber and protein and they're low-calorie.” They're also rich in iron, potassium and magnesium. Look for dry beans or low-sodium canned versions. If you can't find either, says Rosenbloom, “drain and rinse a can of regular beans, and you can reduce the sodium by 41 percent.” (And don't forget garbanzos: Gonzales recommends hummus as a healthy snack.)


7. Water

Water — that's not even a food! True, but you need to pay more attention to hydration as you age. “'As we get older, we don't have as good a thirst mechanism,” says Rosenbloom, who recommends keeping an eye on your water intake especially when it's hot and humid and you're sweating — say, while outside gardening. Bernard points out that taking in extra water can help counteract the effects of bowel function declining with age. And remember that often we think we're hungry when we're actually thirsty.


Originally posted by AARP:

About Feed the Children

At Feed the Children, we feed hungry kids. We envision a world where no child goes to bed hungry. In the U.S. and internationally, we are dedicated to helping families and communities achieve stable lives and to reducing the need for help tomorrow, while providing food and resources to help them today. We distribute product donations from corporate donors to local community partners, we provide support for teachers and students, and we mobilize resources quickly to aid recovery efforts when natural disasters strike. Internationally, we manage child-focused community development programs in 8 countries. We welcome partnerships because we know our work would not be possible without collaborative relationships.

Visit for more information.