6 Foods to skip after 50/ AARP Publication
We’re not going to lie. Eating healthily after 50 requires effort on two fronts: boosting your intake of good-for-you foods such as berries, leafy greens, whole grains and lean proteins while cutting out the foods that clog your arteries and oh-so-easily expand your waistline.
When it comes to the latter, focus less on making certain foods verboten (who doesn’t suddenly want chocolate when told never to eat it?) and more on how your health is more important than the sugar spike or instant gratification they offer. When possible, just say no — or at least “Whoa!” — to the following.
1. Fried foods that triple the calories
If it helps, pause to imagine the vat of oil that basket of fries or onion rings has been submerged in, and consider how its saturated fat “may have a negative impact on blood cholesterol,” says Amy Gorin, a plant-based dietitian and owner of Plant Based With Amy in Stamford, Connecticut. Not sure how to cut back? Here are three expert tips.
- Christine Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and coauthor of Food & Fitness After 50, says that because frying tends to triple the calories in foods, you should invest in an air fryer. (She swears by hers.)
- Alicia Ines Arbaje, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of transitional care research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says to save your fats for dinner and to avoid them at breakfast and lunch.
- Thomas Loepfe, M.D., a geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Go with grilled, not fried.”
Bottom line: Get the side salad instead of restaurant fries. And when you’re looking at labels, consider that “a 200-calorie serving of food should have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat,” says Nancy Farrell Allen, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. Sugary drinks, including most bottled teas
Soft drinks aren’t your only enemy. Bottled teas, fancy coffee drinks and “fresh” lemonades can all be loaded with the sweet stuff. “For example, the 16-ounce chai latte at Starbucks, one of its most popular drinks, has 42 grams of sugar,” Rosenbloom says.
With bottled drinks, beware of misleading labels. “Just because a drink says ‘pure’ or ‘green tea’ or ‘honey’ doesn’t mean it has less sugar,” Rosenbloom says. And products touting their organic cane sugar, coconut sugar or raw sugar? “Sugar is sugar,” she adds.
A 2022 study led by the University of South Carolina of more than 90,000 women found that those who drank at least one sugary beverage a day had a 78 percent higher risk of developing liver cancer than those who consumed less than three servings per month.
Bottom line: “Aim to keep added sugar intake to 10 percent or less of total daily calories,” Gorin says. “For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, that would be no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams, of added sugar per day.”
3. Packaged foods with sneaky sugars
“Hidden sugars can be found in pasta sauces, yogurt, granola bars, instant oatmeal packets and breakfast cereals,” Allen says. Why’s that so harmful for older adults? “Excess sugar can put stress on organs such as the pancreas and liver,” Allen says, “which can increase blood sugar and blood triglyceride levels and raise the risk of fatty liver disease.”
“Sugars increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the incidence and prevalence of which increase as we age,” Loepfe says. And at a time in life when every calorie should be nutrient-dense, “added sugar really contributes to calories we don’t need.”
Bottom line: Check labels for added sugars — but don’t fret over natural sugars in fruits or milk.
4. High-sodium instant meals (think frozen pizzas)
“Seventy-five percent of people over age 60 have high blood pressure. And even if you’re on medication, you want to lower your sodium intake,” Rosenbloom says. If you think you’re eating a low-salt diet because you don’t salt your grilled corn or soup, consider that frozen pizza or canned soup you just heated up. Those items are loaded with stealth salt.
Cutting out some salt can make a difference. The largest randomized clinical trial ever to look at the effects of reducing salt intake in people with heart failure, published this year in The Lancet, found that lowering sodium led to improved symptoms like swelling, fatigue and coughing — and an overall better quality of life.
“Seventy-five percent of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods, not the saltshaker,” Rosenbloom says. So what can you do? An easy way to spot low-sodium foods, she notes, is to look for those in which sodium is 5 percent or less of the daily value; anything in the 20 percent range is a high-sodium food.
Bottom line: Aim for 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
5. Ultra-processed snacks
Unless you’re picking an apple from a tree or getting your milk straight out of a cow, most of the food you eat is processed — it’s the ultra-processed foods that make the list to strike from your diet. “Minimally processed foods like bagged greens, diced vegetables and nuts offer convenience,” Allen says. “And canned tomatoes and frozen fruit and vegetables are an excellent way to enjoy produce processed at peak quality and freshness.”
But many ready-to-eat, processed foods like cake mixes, snack chips, ketchup, sweetened yogurt and “meat lovers” frozen pizzas add food coloring, sodium, preservatives and other hard-to-pronounce additives to make consumers happy. And that’s not good for you.
Many processed foods are void of fiber and nutrients like potassium or magnesium, and they tend to be calorically dense, with a lot of fat and salt, says Joseph Gonzales, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic.
“And some of the preservatives, like nitrates, may be harmful in high amounts, perhaps leading to premature aging of cells in the body,” Loepfe says.
In fact, a UK Biobank study published earlier this year in the journal Neurology found that eating ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of dementia among more than 72,000 participants ages 55 and older. And a Brazilian study of more than 8,000 middle-aged adults found that those for whom more than 20 percent of their daily caloric intake came from processed foods saw a faster decline in memory and organizational skills over several years.
Bottom line: Make label-reading a habit. Better yet, cook at home.
The days of triple-margarita Mexican dinners should be behind you. Why? “Alcohol metabolism changes when we age, and we become more susceptible to its negative aspects,” says Loepfe. “Alcohol can impact fall risk, interact with the medications we take as we age, and lead to an increased risk of dehydration. Alcohol contributes to many health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, our immune system function, and neurological diseases like dementia.”
A University of Pennsylvania study of 36,000 adults released earlier this year found that even moderate levels of alcohol consumption — a few beers or a glass of wine per week — are linked to harm to the brain, no matter what your age.
And if you think alcohol helps you get more or better sleep, think again. “While it may make it easier for us to fall asleep, it doesn’t usually help us stay asleep,” says Allen. “Frequently it wakes us up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom.”
Bottom line: Current government guidelines recommend no more than two drinks a day for males and no more than one drink a day for females.