The 1 Food You Should Eat More Of As You Age

The 1 Food You Should Eat More Of As You Age

The 1 Food You Should Eat More Of As You Age

Hint: It’s in this bowl. GMVozd via Getty Images

Every decade of our lives feels a little different. Many of us are familiar with having boundless energy in our 20s even after four hours of sleep and a few margaritas, and needing a lot more sleep (and fewer alcoholic beverages) in our 30s. Starting from the moment we’re born, our bodies and nutritional needs are changing — which is why it makes sense that we need more and less of certain foods as we get older.

Certain foods can be helpful for energy levels as we age, explained Kimberly Gomer, a registered dietitian and former director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center. But food can also be key in disease prevention. “The major factor in all illness, be it heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity or dementia, can have its roots in inflammation,” she said. “How that inflammation reacts in our body seems to intensify as we age, creating disease and distress. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, along with eliminating anti-inflammatory foods, is key to maintaining amazing physical and mental health as we age.

The 1 food you should eat more of as you age

If you’re looking for one specific food that can move the needle health-wise, the experts we spoke with suggested opting for high-quality fatty protein, namely salmon. “Fatty fish, such as salmon, are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid),” which are long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, explained Dr. Kevin Cooke, a board-certified primary care physician who specializes in longevity medicine and brain performance. “Older adults should aim to include these in their diet at least twice a week to boost omega-3 intake, which supports brain health and reduces inflammation.”

Gomer added that we need protein for muscle maintenance and strength, and healthy fat for hormones and fat-soluble vitamins. “As we age, we naturally will lose muscle — if we don’t use it, we lose it,” she said. “And as we age, many things can happen in our lives where we become less active and less motivated to build and maintain muscle. All of our cells, including our brain cells, need healthy fats to function. When we don’t provide them, we can get into trouble physically and cognitively.”

Edwina Clark, a registered dietitian, added that if salmon isn’t your thing, other high-quality protein sources can include skinless poultry, eggs and tofu. It’s especially important for those 65 and older. “Studies indicate that the optimal intake of protein for older adults is 1-1.2 grams [per kilogram of body weight], which is higher than general recommendation for adults of 0.8 grams per day,” she said. With that in mind, any of the foods listed can be beneficial in helping you meet your requirements. 

Other foods to consider adding to your plate

While piling on the protein and healthy fat is absolutely a good idea as you age, Cooke noted that leafy greens — like kale or spinach — are also smart additions, especially if you’re not eating much of them now. “Leafy greens are high in lutein, zeaxanthin and other antioxidants,” he said. “These are also a great source of B vitamins, like folic acid, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B6, which are important for healthy brain function.”

Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants.Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants.

Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants. Tuncmemo via Getty Images

Clark also recommends pomegranates. “Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants for fighting oxidative damage and contain a group of compounds called ellagitannins,” she said. “Ellagitannins are converted to something called urolithin A by gut bacteria in some people, and urolithin A has been shown to offset some of the effects of aging, including muscle loss. Pomegranates are also a rich source of fiber … and helps regulate blood sugar, promote fullness, and protect against colon cancer.”

How nutritional needs differ for men and women

Men and women have different nutritional needs in every phase of life, including as they age. “Men generally require higher protein intake to maintain muscle mass, which can decline with age,” Cooke said. “They also tend to have higher caloric needs due to larger muscle mass and a higher metabolic rate, although this requirement decreases as they get older. Zinc is particularly important for men as it supports prostate health and immune function.”

For women, calcium and vitamin D become crucial for maintaining bone health, especially after menopause when the risk of osteoporosis increases. “Iron needs decrease after menopause, but it remains important for energy levels,” Cooke said. “Folate is essential for cognitive and cardiovascular health. Additionally, phytoestrogens, found in soy products, can help mitigate menopause symptoms.”

What about supplements?

It seems like supplements are everywhere these days, so you may wonder if you can use them to fill in any nutritional gaps. While the jury is still out on just how effective supplements are, Gomer said, in many cases they can’t hurt — as long as you’re trying a food-first approach.

“If a person has a known deficiency, it is always better to use food first as the nutrients in foods tend to be accepted and absorbed better in the body,” she said. “But sometimes, a supplement is needed. That should be taken when a lab test to see a baseline is first done, and then the proper supplement and dosage determined. For example, many of my clients are low in vitamin D, which is difficult to obtain from diet alone so a supplement may be helpful.”

While nutrition can feel more complicated as we age, it doesn’t have to be. You can rest-assured that if you’re eating salmon a few times a week and sneaking in a few handfuls of leafy greens as well, you’re in pretty good shape. 


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