Eating healthy, less of a priority for many in their youthful years, becomes all the more necessary as the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and other age-related conditions increases as you get older.
Ideally, eating habits that support healthy aging should start “in your teens, if not earlier,” says Adriane Kozlovsky, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital.
“It’s not the situation where you eat horribly until you’re 40 and then you start focusing on a healthier diet. In truth, all of those risk factors linked to age-related diseases, heart disease for example, actually start much earlier,” Kozlovsky says. “And then as you get older, your needs change. And so as your needs change, you need to meet those needs.”
You should consult with your doctor or nutritionist about any changes you’re thinking about making to your diet. Whenever you decide to eat healthier (hopefully sooner rather than later), keep in mind there are certain foods packed with nutrients that are vital as you age. Here are nine key ones:
Blueberries and strawberries
These fruits contain antioxidants that can protect the brain from oxidative stress and may also help reduce the effects of age-related conditions like dementia. “With fruits and vegetables, the darker the color, typically the higher the nutrition content,” Kozlovsky says.
This is also a great source of antioxidants, though it’s recommended that you not exceed 8 to 10 grams of sugar per serving.
Kozlovsky says: “It’s all about the oxidation. It’s all about making sure that those arteries that lead to your heart or to your brain are clear and healthy.”
Fatty fish such as salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids the brain converts to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which can enhance neuronal communication and promote neural growth.
Whole grains contain fiber (which supports heart health), vitamin E (which can help minimize oxidative damage), and some omega-3s (which also support heart health). Remember, whole foods in general are always the better dietary option. “The less processing, the less refining, the better,” Kozlovsky says.
Avocado contains good fat, otherwise known as monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow and can help lower your blood pressure.
This veggie is a good source of folate, which helps support the nervous system. (Folate deficiency can lead to neurological disorders including depression and cognitive impairment.)
You’re probably familiar with the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, while apples aren’t exactly a cure-all, they do contain quercetin, an antioxidant plant chemical that helps protect your brain cells.
This snack has protein and the amino acid L-carnitine, which helps improve circulation in the brain. Also, B vitamins in yogurt can benefit nerve support.
In addition to containing vitamin E, which can help minimize cognitive decline, nuts are also high in monounsaturated fats, which help decrease inflammation.