You can also view this article on the Food & Nutrition Magazine blog, Stone Soup.
From the moment of conception, the human body is aging. And while it cannot be stopped, it’s possible to influence how quickly the body ages. One of the most significant ways is through diet. Think of every bite as a deposit into the bank of health, with nutrient-rich foods being valuable currency. And remember: It’s never too late to make contributions. Here are some tips for each decade of life that promote healthy aging.
With the “need it now” mentality fueled by social media and technology, 20-somethings are accustomed to quick and convenient, especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean healthy. Convenience foods can be high in calories, fat, sugar and salt. Few provide the right amount of quality protein — an important nutrient for this age group since muscle mass peaks in this decade. A Journal of Gerontology study showed that lean mass, and the muscle that comes with it, could decrease by up to 40 percent from age 20 to 70. Eating a high-protein diet together with exercise can counteract this loss. Include protein-rich foods like lean meats, dairy, fish and lentils with each meal.
Many in their 30s enjoy good health and are untouched by the visible signs of aging. Unfortunately, many also are preoccupied with work and family and neglect their health and take for granted their body’s resilience — a resilience quickly chipped away by poor diet. Enter multivitamins. A survey from the market research company NPD Group suggests that the average American adult meets dietary guidelines just seven days out of the year. Almost all fall short of the estimated average requirement for vitamin E, and more than half don’t meet needs for magnesium, folate and vitamin D. Taking a multivitamin helps supply the nutrients needed to support healthy aging.
In this decade, the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese sharply rises, and with it comes health risks, mostly notably type 2 diabetes. The Obesity Society reports that almost 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Weight gain is largely preventable by following a healthy diet. For those in their 40s, it’s important to avoid foods high in refined sugar like soda, candy and pastries. Instead, eating balanced meals with complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber can help manage blood sugar and weight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women, trumping cancer, stroke and diabetes. Being over the age of 50 increases the risk. Add other factors — African-American ethnicity, a family history of heart disease — and the risk increases even more. While some factors cannot be mitigated, diet and exercise are effective tools for preventing heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week (or taking a daily supplement) to increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Sixties and older
The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, and most individuals with Alzheimer’s are 65 or older. The likelihood of developing the disease doubles every five years after age 65. While there is no cure, research has focused on delaying, slowing and preventing symptoms, and nutritional interventions show promise. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests 2,000 IU of vitamin E as part of a comprehensive care plan that helps slow dementia. More research is needed, but there’s no denying the benefit of a healthy diet and lifestyle to support brain health.
No matter the decade of life, the goal should always be to invest wisely with nutrition.