Medically reviewed by Leann Poston, M.D. on 9/24/20
Aging brings with it a myriad of changes for your body. Chief among them are a slowing of your metabolism, an increased need for vitamins and nutrients, and a consequent need to pay more attention to what you are putting in your body. Many of these changes start as early as your 40s or even your late 30s, so it’s never too early to start doing your research and becoming more mindful of your diet. To that end, we’ve put together a guide to the best foods for your 40s and beyond!
Below, we’ll highlight several aspects of achieving a healthy and nutritious diet as you age through your 40s, 50s, and beyond. First, we’ll look at the importance of a healthy and balanced diet in relation to your overall health, fitness, and longevity. Next, we’ll highlight the most frequently recommended diet model based on today’s general scientific and dietetic suggestions. Then, we’ll look at two categories of foods that make up the best foods for your 40s and the decades that follow. Specifically, these foods can help decrease the risk of developing certain illnesses or diseases, and foods (or so-called superfoods) that have purported anti-aging effects. Finally, we’ll talk about the importance of vitamins and supplements – even with a balanced diet – in order to remain healthy.
In This Article
Before we start digging into our review of the best foods for your 40s, however, it’s worth taking a minute to note that every individual is different. Therefore every individual’s dietary and nutritional needs are somewhat different. Individual medical conditions, illnesses, preferences, and so on can influence what you eat and what your body needs. You should always consult with a professional dietitian, nutritionist, doctor, or healthcare provider prior to making any radical changes to your diet or starting a vitamin or supplement regimen. This is doubly important if you take medications, which may have interactions with certain foods, vitamins, or supplements, or suffer from various conditions which may alter your natural needs, absorption, processing, or elimination of certain types of nutrients. This article is not meant to be taken as medical advice or supplant a licensed physician or dietitian’s advice.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at our comprehensive guide to the best foods for your 40s and beyond!
At this point, it’s largely undisputed science that a healthy, balanced diet has many correlations to overall health and well-being. Simply getting sufficient calories – not too few or too many – is not enough. Ensuring you get an ideal, balanced mix of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and other substances that your body and its various systems need to function optimally is the essence of what this term means, in addition to respecting caloric intake and expenditure to avoid losing weight or gaining weight (except as desired).
It’s also important to underscore that in this context, the term “diet” is referring to what you eat, in its entirety, regularly. It’s not the more popular term or usage of “diet,” referring more specifically to a restricted food intake to lose or maintain weight. While those goals are certainly overlapping and both an important part of remaining healthy as you age, the two are distinctly different, and the advice can also be distinctly different.
With that understanding, a healthy and balanced diet has many benefits and purposes, at all ages, with growing importance as you age. These benefits and purposes include:
These are just some of the key purposes of a healthy, balanced diet. Several of these benefits become more important as adults age since it can take a bit more of certain nutrients and vitamins to absorb as much as you did when you were younger. Your digestive system changes can also mean various new problems or health conditions, such as heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, nausea, and similar with some foods, even if they never bothered you before. The decreased metabolism also means that it’s easier to gain weight, so a more ideal, balanced mix of food sources and food groups becomes important to avoid adding on 5, 10, or 15 pounds per year as you age.
These are all additional practical reasons why a healthy, balanced diet is so important and becomes more important with every year older we get. It reinforces the need to put some care and thought into what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat it, and your other eating habits. That certainly means excluding things that are bad for your health and including things that are good for your health. Our guide to the best foods for your 40s and beyond is a great place to start. However, you can also benefit from adopting an overall healthy diet model.
Among professional dietitians, nutritionists, and researchers, a general consensus is that a diet that largely mirrors the popular Mediterranean diet style is the best starting point for most people of all ages, but especially older adults. This is based not only on studies and analyses of what makes up the Mediterranean diet but also on longitudinal research that bears out a longer and healthier lifespan, on average, for people who live in the Mediterranean region and largely eat in a similar pattern on a normal basis for their entire lives.
These findings indicate a lower incidence of a number of diseases and illnesses, less obesity (and the resulting health problems that obesity can cause or exacerbate), and fewer of the kinds of chronic illnesses that we know are triggered or made worse by diets high in bad fats and cholesterol, processed food, and red meat, among others.
While there is no definitive model of the Mediterranean diet, and it may mean slightly different things to different people or regions, the general gist involves the principles below. You may notice that this advice largely parallels many other kinds of diets and heavily emphasizes certain categories or types of food. Many of those foods will appear on our below list of the best foods for your 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond.
Most often, the Mediterranean diet is based around the following:
Like all diets, whether meant for long-term use or more targeted for weight loss or weight maintenance, it’s important to find a balance that is sustainable for you, your tastes, and lifestyle. Depriving yourself is never going to be a sustainable tactic in either context, though a small bit of sacrifice or change is worth it to extend both the quantity and quality of your life, especially as you get older.
When it comes to some of the best foods for your 40s and beyond, numerous healthy options can make a meaningful difference in reducing the risk of developing certain illnesses and diseases. Some foods can help offset any existing damage or risk factors you may have to vary degrees. Several of these foods work based on the anti-oxidant properties they contain, or by a specific action focused on an individual system or group of systems in the body (e.g., lowering blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of various cardiac problems).
No food alone is a substitute for medical intervention or medication prescribed by your doctor, of course. But we all have to eat several times a day, so why not choose foods that can positively impact your health?! That’s the whole purpose of this guide to the best foods for your 40s and the decades that follow – making smart choices to help with healthy aging.
Among experts, the best foods for your 40s and beyond, in terms of reducing and offsetting illness or disease risk include:
In these orange foods, the beta carotene has been shown in several studies to act almost like an internal sunscreen, significantly reducing your risk of developing skin cancer. While no substitute for a good SPF sunblock, a diet with a sufficient intake of these foods can help boost your skin protection and cut skin cancer risk. At the same time, some research shows that these same carotene-based compounds can reduce the risk of other cancers, such as breast cancer, that are not linked to sun exposure (though the exact mechanism isn’t well-understood).
Tuna steaks contain a great amount of protein and little to no saturated fats. Because muscle loss is a real concern as we age, dietary protein intake needs to increase. Tuna is a great source to help maintain and even build new muscle after 40 and beyond.
Not only are they rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in general, but they can help preserve your vision, thanks to being full of lutein. They also have lots of carotenoid compounds, which, as discussed above for our entry on carrots and other orange veggies, can help reduce the risk of several types of cancers.
These are a good source of healthy protein, a great meat substitute, and contain decent amounts of selenium, a mineral that has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men significantly.
These legumes are a great source of dietary fiber, which can help resolve any digestive or bowel-related issues you may encounter. Diarrhea, gas, constipation, bloating, and related conditions all tend to become more common with age, and keeping your digestive system in good working order can help save you from a world of discomfort.
These fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant with strong links to fighting and preventing cancer. In terms of tomatoes especially, research shows that cooking the tomatoes (such as using them in a tomato sauce) may be particularly useful in helping your body to absorb the lycopene.
Nuts are a good source of good fats when following a Mediterranean diet, but they have many other benefits, as well. While you don’t want to overdo it, most nuts and seeds – but especially walnuts – contain a mix of beneficial fats and fatty acids, some of which have been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
It may seem paradoxical that fatty fish is a healthy protein option over leaner species, but they are. Salmon, in particular, contains copious amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are positively linked to heart health.
In addition to the foods discussed above, there also are a range of foods that have various purported anti-aging effects. In most cases, these foods have ingredients or compounds that may slow the appearance or functional effects of aging somewhat or repair the damage that is consistent with the bodily changes that occur with aging.
As we mentioned before, no foods will reverse the march of time, un-wrinkle your skin, or make you look 25 again instead of 40. However, we all know some people in their 50s, 60s, or beyond who still look, act, and feel like they are many decades younger. While the jury is still out on how effective some of these superfoods and anti-aging foods may be, there is early evidence for some of them that there might be something to the claims. So, at the very least, it is worth considering working these items from our list of the best foods for your 40s and beyond into your diet where possible – even if the science isn’t yet 100% on their benefits.
Packed with several important vitamins and nutrients, papaya really shines for its numerous anti-oxidant compounds and its enzyme papain. Papain is a natural anti-inflammatory, meaning it can not only help your overall health, but reduce pain, swelling, and auto-immune-related inflammation. It can also make you look healthier, as papain is used in many cosmetic products with exfoliating properties, boosting your skin’s appearance and youthfulness.
As with walnuts, which we mentioned in the previous section, almonds are full of good fats and important omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. They also contain good amounts of vitamin E, which is an essential nutrient for protecting skin from sun damage, helping it remain moist and plump and repairing wear and tear. This effectively means almonds can help to reinforce the cellular membranes of your skin cells, help your skin appear more youthful and full, decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and preserve the natural oils in your skin – protecting from “crepey skin” that often appears as adults get into retirement age and beyond.
Another healthy fat source, avocados are not just trendy, but incredibly healthy. Their fatty acids work to fight inflammation, while nutrients (including potassium, B vitamins, and vitamins A, C, E, and K) are critical for a number of body systems, including several responsible for our outward appearance. Vitamin A, in particular, helps with skin appearance.
A staple of anti-aging and health foods for generations, pomegranate seeds have numerous anti-oxidants and a high vitamin C density. In particular, the antioxidants help prevent damage to our cells and DNA via free radicals and can help cut down on inflammation, too. Pomegranate seeds also contain punicalagin, which acts to help preserve collagen in the skin, leaving it more elastic and flexible, and therefore looking younger.
Another valuable seed to include in your diet, sesame seeds not only offer fiber, but iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other nutrients. They’re great for bone health and a good alternative to higher-fat calcium sources like dairy.
In addition to being delicious, blueberries are pound for pound, one of the most potent sources of anti-oxidants that you can incorporate into your diet. Chemical compounds in blueberries have been shown in some studies to help reduce the incidence and severity of certain types of cancer, as well as heart-related conditions, stroke, and other health problems commonly associated with aging.
Watermelon will help you stay hydrated, which is a critical part of any diet and nutrition plan. It has anti-aging effects through this pathway, since remaining hydrated is the best way to maximize cellular hydration, and have your external appearance looking full and healthy rather than gaunt or shriveled. It contains lycopene (see our tomatoes entry in the previous section), which has a number of health benefits. On top of that, the watermelon rind has been explored as a natural supplement for erectile dysfunction or waning libido and may provide a boost in the bedroom.
This spice can help keep your dental health on the right track as you age. Turmeric actually abrades the very top surface of teeth – specifically, any stains deposited on your outer enamel. By eating more turmeric, you can naturally improve your dental health. You can also use it as a periodic tooth treatment or toothpaste a few times a month for more direct effect if desired.
The no-sugar-added variety of oatmeal is a great source of minerals like zinc and iron, which are vital for nail and hair growth. Maintain your nail and hair health (though perhaps not your original color) by increasing your intake of steel-cut oats or oatmeal.
Even if you are eating a Mediterranean diet, and getting sufficient quantities of all of the foods we’ve discussed above, and plenty of other fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate specific supplements and/or a multi-vitamin into your diet. No one consistently gets their recommended daily value of every key nutrient that a multi-vitamin can provide, even if they are eating a well-balanced diet. As we age, due to hormonal and other changes, it becomes more difficult to absorb nutrients from food. At 40, this may not yet be too pronounced, but it increases over time. To help combat the myriad of problems (and decreased health) associated with several vitamin and mineral deficiencies, get in the habit early of taking a daily multi-vitamin.
If you are specifically at risk for certain deficiencies or conditions that can benefit from an extra boost of specific or targeted nutrients, then supplements may be an ideal addition as well. Worried about your calcium intake and osteoporosis risk? A calcium supplement may be just the thing you need. Not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from your food intake? Omega-3 heart health pills are available at almost all drug stores and supplement/nutrition shops, and online.
There are countless examples that we could include, but if you know from a doctor’s visit or past medical history that you have a particular need, then supplements may be worthwhile to take daily or as recommended by your healthcare provider. As their name implies, they help to supplement the nutrients you get from your diet, and can really help to supercharge the anti-aging and illness prevention or impact reduction effects of many of the foods we’ve discussed in this guide.
There are many steps that you can take to stay healthy at age 40 and beyond, above and beyond, simply eating the right foods and having a healthy, balanced diet. In order to remain healthy in all areas, you need to address all areas of your health! This includes a regular exercise program, proper diet, seeing your doctor for an annual check-up, addressing any emerging health concerns or illnesses, self-monitoring for symptoms of problems, maintaining relationships and social life, managing mental health and getting therapy or medication when required, managing your existing medications and health conditions, taking steps to de-stress and be mindful, and taking advantage of any vaccinations, flu shots, and other preventative medicine options that may be available to you for free or at low or little cost.
By far, the habits that can prematurely age your body and appearance the most are those that all experts tend to encourage you to stop. Specifically, over-indulgence in alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs are the worst offenders. Eating junk food, and/or too much of it, and being overweight is the second category of habits that will most contribute to aging – though less in terms of appearance and more in terms of developing negative health conditions and diseases earlier on in your life than you otherwise would. Still, following our guidance on the best foods for your 40s, 50s, and into old age will help keep you healthier and fitter than junk food, for sure!
A lack of exercise or any regular physical activity, a lack of a social life or any kind of peer relationships, and a lack of mental health care when you have a mental health problem or disorder are all additional habits that can most assuredly contribute to the aging process. Of course, there’s no way to prevent aging as a whole – time marches on – but premature aging, damaged appearance, higher risk of developing conditions and illnesses, and putting unnecessary wear and tear on your body’s systems all can make aging much harder to deal with.
The flip side to our best foods for your 40s and beyond is a review of the kinds of foods you should avoid as you age. As you would expect, there are many foods and types of food or preparations that should be avoided or eaten only in moderation at all ages, particularly as metabolism starts to slow. We’ve actually covered this comprehensively in our article on the foods to avoid at age 50 and beyond, and much of that advice applies at age 40 as well. In summary, fried foods, excessively processed foods, foods high in sodium, excessive sugar intake, saturated fats, alcohol, coffee, and carbs should all be reduced or eaten only in moderation.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important at any age, and grows more important over our lifetimes. Getting sufficient nutrients to fuel your body is the main purpose of your diet, but not the only purpose. Many foods offer important health benefits and anti-aging properties, and a well-balanced, healthy diet can help to keep you happy, healthy, and active for decades into retirement. Choosing healthy foods, like those in our guide to the best foods for your 40s and beyond, is an important first step.
Start healthy eating habits early, and incorporate a variety of healthy food choices to ensure you get all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need as you age. Food isn’t a time machine, and can’t work miracles – but choosing the right foods can make a meaningful difference in your risk for cancers and various diseases and illnesses, offset negative appearance changes and body functions resulting from aging, and in general keep you in better health as you get older. Who doesn’t want that?!
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.