Food is food, but when you hit 50, the age AARP once arbitrarily labeled the threshold to “older,” your body begins to change in small ways that can affect how what you eat works for you and how you may need to edit the menu.
1. WEIGHT WATCHING
There’s now a real reason to regret that spare tire smack in the middle of your abdomen. Two recent studies, one at Iowa State University and a second across The Pond at University College/London, compared abdominal CT scans with MRI pictures of volunteers’ brains and found that more fat around the middle means lower brain volume. Exactly how that affects your ability to think straight remains to be seen, but here’s another interesting age/weight stat. Staying trim is a good thing but bio scientists at China’s Tongji Medical College report that deliberately trying to lose weight after 50 may heighten your risk of premature death, particularly from heart disease. So, if your weight is fine right now, stick with it. While bodies differ, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest these daily calorie totals will do the job.
AGE 50/CALORIES PER DAY
Activity level Men Women
Not physically active 2,000-2,200 1,600
Moderately active 2,200-2,400 1,800
Physically active 2,400-2,800 2,000-2,200
2. THE WHOLE GRAIN WHOLE TRUTH
If you are a man who plans to live forever, nutrition scientists at Harvard/Brigham and women’s hospital have three words for you: whole grain cereal. Their results showed that men who eat at least one serving of whole grain cereals a day were 27 percent less likely to die during the trial than were men who ate refined grain products. The whole grain guys were also as much as 28 percent less likely to succumb to a heart attack no matter how much they weighed, whether they smoked or drank alcohol or had a history high blood pressure or high cholesterol. How many servings a day? Studies say more is better but one is better than none at all. If whole grain is the first ingredient and each serving has at least 2 grams of dietary fiber, you’ve found your food. And yes, data from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study shows similar results for women.
3. THE EYES HAVE IT
What you eat may be what you see. Macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among people older than 50, can turn vision blurry, distorted or dark making it hard to read, see straight ahead, and even recognize faces. A recent report from the University of Buffalo says a diet packed with red meat, fried foods, refined grains and high fat dairy products can increase your risk of these problems by as much as 30 percent. See #2 above.
4. COFFEE COMFORT
News from the medical journal Stroke says women who drink coffee have a risk of stroke 25 percent lower than women who never sip a cup of Java. Similar studies show the same effects in men, and the National Institute of Health (NIH) agrees there’s a clear link between regular coffee consumption and healthy longevity which gets stronger with more coffee, up to six cups (8 oz) a day. Nobody yet knows exactly what compounds in the coffee contribute to the effect although experts at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health say that anti-inflammatories and caffeine that expand blood vessels and reduce the risk of blood clots are leading candidates.
5. PROTEIN POWER
You know that old myth about muscle turning to fat as you age? Forget the magic. It’s just natural age-related muscle loss which (alas!) makes the fat more prominent. To help alleviate the problem, pick up your protein. Christine Ritchie, director of research for the division of palliative care and geriatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital encourages older people to consume about 25 to 30 grams at each meal. A medium chicken breast or low-fat beef burger, a 5-ounce can of tuna, 2 cups of cooked rice and beans, or a cup of low-fat cottage cheese qualify. But not all at once, please. “Ingesting protein multiple times throughout the day,” says Ritchie, “is going to be a lot more effective than having one big steak at the end of the day.”
BONUS FACT FOR THE NOT-YET-50: AARP now welcomes everyone age 18 and older. Given the wealth of membership benefits and product discounts from eyeglasses to car rentals, signing on at any age can be its own reward.
Carol Ann Rinzler is the author of Nutrition for Dummies, 7th edition (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, May 2021)