When it comes to nutrition, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. As your body evolves, you’ll need to tweak the contents of your plate to help you feel your best. And when you’re over 50, nutrition experts say that eating plenty of foods that contain protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients is one way to make sure these next 10 years are your best yet.
First and foremost, know that there’s no need to overhaul your diet when you hit age 50, says registered dietitian Jenn Salib Huber, who focuses on nutritional needs for perimenopausal and menopausal women. “Women still benefit from building balanced plates with a mix of protein, fats, and carbohydrates,” she notes.
That said, as you put your forties behind you, there’s some evidence that nutrient deficiencies can crop up due to hormonal fluctuations and changes in your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. So, below, Huber and nutritionist Anne Danahy, founder of Craving Something Healthy, share the six best foods to add to your grocery cart if you’re over 50. Plus, what nutrients make these proteins, veggies, and fats such a good addition to your daily diet.
1. Greek yogurt
“[Greek yogurt] is packed with protein for your muscles and calcium for your bones. I like to mix a generous scoop into overnight oats to help boost protein in the morning,” says Danahy.
Protein is one of those key nutrients for women over 50 because it helps the body stay strong. “There is evidence for slightly higher protein needs for women over 50, primarily to help build and maintain muscle,” says Huber. “As we age, we’re at risk for something called sarcopenia, an age-related progressive loss of muscle mass and strength. This can increase our risk of frailty, falls, and fractures in our later years, so doing what we can to avoid that is important.”
A 200-calorie serving of full-fat Greek yogurt contains about 19 grams of protein, almost 40% of your daily recommended intake of this nutrient.
These salty little fish are one of Huber’s go-to recommendations to women over 50 because they contain vitamin D and calcium, along with heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
“Everyone knows that calcium is important for strong bones, but recent studies suggest that calcium after 50 doesn’t reduce fractures as much as we used to think,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still focus on including calcium-rich foods as getting enough of this mineral as it’s crucial for our heart and muscles, and not getting enough can cause arrhythmias and leg cramps.”
Vitamin D, meanwhile, helps regulate the immune system and allows your body to actually absorb that calcium. “As you age, your body is less efficient at making vitamin D from sun exposure,” Danahy explains.
A single can of sardines contains 22% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin D and 27% of the calcium you need each day.
3. Leafy greens
When you head to the supermarket, make sure to fill your cart with kale, Swiss chard, spinach, or whatever greens you like. “Leafy greens can pack a big punch when it comes to iron and calcium, and keep in mind that cooking greens will make minerals like calcium more bioavailable,” says Huber.
A 200-calorie serving of spinach packs about 860 milligrams of calcium, which is 66% of what you need per day.
If you’re looking for a high-protein snack that also stars vitamin D, hard-boiled eggs are a great option. “Eggs are another excellent and easy-to-cook protein that provides vitamin D in the yolk,” says Danahy. “Make a batch of deviled eggs and swap Greek yogurt for the mayo. They’re a tasty and satisfying mid-afternoon or post-workout high-protein snack.”
If you decide to fry up two eggs to enjoy with your leafy greens and sardines, you’ll give your body an extra 14 grams of protein and 10% of the vitamin D you need today.
5. Chia seeds
Chia seeds provide calcium and iron, the latter of which is most important for people who are still menstruating and “becomes less of a concern for those in menopause and postmenopause,” says Huber. “As iron is needed to help transport oxygen around the body, not getting enough can lead to fatigue, brain fog, and dizziness.”
What’s more, chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. “These essential fats can’t be made [by the body], and need to be provided by our diet,” Huber says. Omega-3 deficiency can lead to inflammation, poor memory, dry skin, and mood swings.
A one-ounce serving of chia seeds fulfills about 12% of your daily iron needs and about three times your daily suggested intake of omega-3s.
6. Soy milk
“Soy milk is often fortified with vitamin D along with B12, providing a food source for this essential vitamin for those who don’t eat meat,” says Huber. “Vitamin B12 is a common nutrient deficiency in people over 50 because our bodies have difficulty absorbing it as we get older.” For folks going through menopause, a vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to symptoms such as anemia and brain fog.
Eating your cereal with a cup of soy milk each morning will score you 301 milligrams of calcium (about 23% of what you need in a day) and all the B12 you need for the day.
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