20 Nutrition-Packed Foods for Aging Well

Healthy Living

December 13, 2019

Good nutrition makes a difference in your life whether you’re 21 or 61, but the older you get, the more critical it is to pay attention to what you eat and drink. Research continues to link proper nutrition with a host of health benefits, including helping people retain cognitive function (i.e., brain power) as they age. Looking to boost the nutritional value of your diet? Here are 20 foods that pack a powerful punch when it comes to nutrition.

  1. Oily Fish

    Certain fish, such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and herring, contain DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help slow down age-related cognitive decline and improve overall brain health. Broiled or grilled fish and water-packed tuna are also good sources of lean protein.

  2. Hard Boiled Eggs

    Adequate protein intake is important in preventing age-related muscle loss. Hard-boiled eggs are easy to prepare, chew and swallow, and can be eaten plain or added to salads or sandwiches. A large egg contains about 6 grams of protein and 44 IU of vitamin D for under 80 calories. Although a hardboiled egg does contain nearly 190 mg of cholesterol, when consumed in moderate quantities, eggs do not appear to raise blood cholesterol significantly.

  3. Low-fat or Skim Milk

    Milk is a good source of protein as well as the calcium and vitamin D needed for bone health. Low-fat or skim milk provides these nutrients for under 105 calories per cup. If you’re lactose intolerant, substitute lactose-free milk to reap the same benefits without the unpleasant side effects.

  4. Cheeses

    Lack of protein is one of the causes of increasing frailty among seniors. This can start a vicious cycle in which seniors with poor bone density or weak muscles might struggle to cook, exacerbating health problems with a diet too low in protein. Low fat cottage cheese or string cheeses provide no-cook options with protein and calcium, essential to good bone health.

  5. Berries

    Not only are fresh or frozen berries delicious and easy to prepare, but they may slow rates of age-related cognitive decline and dementia due to being rich in polyphenol phytonutrients. Eat raw or toss them in smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal.

  6. Raw Nuts

    Raw nuts like almonds, cashews and walnuts are high in protein, B vitamins, healthy fats and vitamin E. Their high fiber content benefits your gastrointestinal health. If you need to watch calories, eat nuts in moderation since they’re on the higher end of the calorie spectrum. But if you can stand the extra calories, nuts provide a convenient way to add no-fuss protein, fiber and vitamins to your diet. A little goes a long way, too, in keeping you full.

  7. Olive Oil

    A key element of the healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids that may contribute to reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and improving blood sugar control. Instead of cooking with butter or margarine, switch to extra virgin olive oil as a nutrient-rich alternative.

  8. Leafy Green Vegetables

    Kale, collard greens, spinach and other leafy green vegetables are fiber-rich and nutrient dense. Fiber helps with constipation, which can be a problem for older adults. Some studies show that leafy vegetables may help slow cognitive decline as well. Plus, dark leafy greens are a good source of nondairy calcium.

  9. Meat

    Red, overly processed meats – like deli cuts and sausages – can cause a host of problems, but you don’t have to skip meat entirely to improve your diet. Choose lean, white meats over red whenever possible, especially poultry and fish. Also, many seniors absorb the vitamin B12 (cobalamin), which is only found in animal products and fortified foods, poorly. Adding small amounts of lean meat or other animal products to your diet ensures adequate supplies of B-12.

  10. Bananas

    Convenient and easy to chew and swallow, an average medium banana contains 422 mg of potassium, a mineral essential to cardiovascular health. As well as contributing to reducing your blood pressure due to their potassium content, bananas also contain fiber, which helps prevent constipation.

  11. Cruciferous Vegetables

    Cancer is a major medical concern for seniors, as the incidence of cancer increases with age. Recent research shows that a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and bok choy, may reduce your cancer risk due to their high levels of glucosinolates. They also contain other important nutrients, including fiber, carotenoids and vitamins C, E and K.

  12. Avocados

    As well as being filled with heart-healthy unsaturated fats that have been shown to lower bad cholesterol, avocados also contain folate, a vitamin that may reduce inflammation. A whole avocado has just over 1 gram of sugar (compared to 14 grams for a medium banana) and twice as much potassium as a banana, offering a low-sugar alternative for diabetics who need to take it easy on fruit intake.

  13. Yams and Sweet Potatoes

    Although carrots are the best known source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, this handy nutrient is also found in yams and sweet potatoes, giving them their characteristically orange color. There is some evidence that beta-carotene may help slow cognitive decline and may lower your risk of some cancers.

  14. Beans

    Unpleasant gaseous side effects notwithstanding, beans provide protein and fiber in a convenient, easy-to-chew form. They can be added to salads, soups and stews for a nutritional boost and are far less expensive than meat, which is a bonus for people living on fixed incomes. You can get creative with beans, too, from putting black beans into brownie batter to bulking up white pasta sauces with the Great Northern variety. It won’t change the taste but will add nutrients to foods that aren’t as great on their own.

  15. Oatmeal

    For a heart-healthy breakfast, consider oatmeal. Not only is it convenient, inexpensive and easy to eat, but it’s packed with soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps prevent constipation, may help reduce cholesterol and could help you control diabetes, which are important to healthy aging.

  16. Meat Substitutes

    Many delicious meat substitutes, such as vegetarian burgers or sausages, are widely available. If you’ve been advised to reduce saturated fat and increase fiber for cardiovascular health, try substituting bean or soy patties for meat a few times a week. Many can be cooked in a microwave in a few minutes and include fiber as well as protein. If the idea of “fake meat” weirds you out, try using something like tofu crumbles instead of beef for tacos or spaghetti. You won’t notice the difference in foods with spicier profiles or heavy sauces.

  17. Flaxseeds

    If you don’t like fish or find it too pricey where you live, you can get the health benefits of omega-3 essential fatty acids in the form of flaxseeds, which you can sprinkle on cereals or salads, add to soups and stews, or use a couple scoops in smoothies or homemade baked goods. Both the omega-3 fatty acids and lignans in flaxseeds may have protective effects against certain cancers and other chronic conditions and help slow cognitive decline. Plus, you can buy flaxseed in large bags and keep it in the fridge to extend the shelf life, making it a nutritious and affordable add-in.

  18. Tomatoes

    Whether raw in salads or cooked in sauces, tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that is being studied for its possible effects in reducing your risk of macular degeneration, cataracts and some cancers. More research needs to be done on the mechanisms by which lycopene may inhibit cancers, but tomatoes are definitely a good food choice for seniors. They’re easily chewable and digestible, affordable and low calorie, and they contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium and folate – quite the nutritional powerhouse for such a small fruit.

  19. Water

    Water isn’t so much a food, but it is one of the most important elements of senior nutrition. Thirst is a good indicator that you’re dehydrated, so to avoid that feeling, it’s important to get enough liquid throughout the day. Dehydration can exacerbate constipation and cause fatigue or confusion. Also, in hot weather, dehydration can be especially dangerous for seniors, contributing to heat stroke. Opt for unsweetened and noncaffeinated beverages, like decaf iced tea, if you’re not a big fan of water.

  20. Nutritional Supplements

    If you’re older and just had surgery, can’t leave the house much or take a lot of medications, you may be at a higher risk for malnutrition. Supplements in the form of drinks, powders or pills can provide many nutritional benefits. Just make sure to ask your doctor before trying any prescription or over-the-counter dietary supplement. Some vitamins and other supplements could interfere with your medication or make you feel worse, not better.