What Not to Eat When You’re Over 50
Medically reviewed by Leann Poston, M.D. on 9/24/20
Remember those college days when you lived on pizza and beer? There’s a reason most aging adults no longer eat like when they were in their teens or twenties. Diet plays an important role in our overall health, with growing importance as we age. Everyone enjoys some indulgences from time to time, of course. Unless instructed by a doctor, or due to an existing medical condition, there’s no reason you can’t have some junk food on occasion. But eating a well-balanced diet, eating healthy foods, and decreasing your intake of “bad” foods is key to living longer and healthier.
There’s no denying, however, that it can be difficult to adjust your eating habits as you age. The first step is to understand how good food helps and how bad food hurts our aging bodies, more so than when we were younger. But what exactly constitutes a “good” or “bad” food in the first place? What factors should you consider to ensure you are getting a healthy diet when you’re 50+? Are there specific foods and food groups you should avoid when you’re over 50? We’ll answer all these questions and more in our guide below.
The Importance of Diet for Healthy Aging
First, it’s critically important to understand how diet plays a role in healthy aging. According to the National Institute on Aging, a balanced, healthy diet for adults over 50 ensures proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are ingested to maximize the functioning and self-repair mechanisms in the body. The metabolism naturally slows as we age, too, meaning what once was a “healthy diet” that allowed you to maintain your weight can slowly become too high a caloric intake to sustain, leading to the scale creeping up on you as the years go by. These are just some of the issues that a proper diet can address. A good diet helps to:
- Maintain bone density and muscle strength
- Promote an active metabolism
- Provide consistent energy
- Help preserve memory and brain function
- Boosts the immune system to maintain overall health
- Contributes to good oral health, including preserving tooth and gum health
- Can decrease the risk of developing several diseases, including various cancers
- Helps maintain libido and sexual function
- Decreases the risk of cardiovascular, pulmonary, or cognitive declines and health issues in later life
- Is essential to maintaining a healthy weight
Many of these benefits of a good diet are relevant throughout our lives, but become all the more important as we age. Naturally, seniors are more likely to develop a host of age-related health problems, are less likely to be as physically active as younger adults, and experience the various body and brain changes associated with aging. A healthy diet’s positive effects may be overlooked when we are younger, as many of these problems or symptoms are absent, and the farthest thing from our minds. However, as we age, they become more and more pressing concerns, and present in our everyday lives so they cannot be ignored. Combating those declines and preserving our active, healthy selves becomes a higher priority for most seniors. So, too, must a healthy diet become a higher priority for adults over 50.
Foods and Food Groups to Avoid When You’re Over 50
With all of that said, it can sometimes be hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to what foods are “good” or “bad” for adults over 50. Much as there seems to be no end to the number of fad diets and health programs out there, there’s virtually no end to the number of studies and pieces of advice about diet that often contradict one another. To put together our list of foods and food groups to avoid when you’re over 50, we’ve consulted numerous trusted resources, including the NIH, Johns Hopkins, AARP, and several of those studies, to find the common, scientifically-supported threads woven through all this disparate advice. The result is our list of foods and food groups to avoid, which can apply to the largest range of adults over 50 as possible.
- Reduce your sodium intake. Sodium is found in a lot of pre-packaged and processed foods, as well as pickled items. Deli meats, bacon, pizza, cheese, soup – all often have a significant amount of sodium. While sodium is an essential mineral for your body to function, too much can raise your blood pressure, aggravate related heart conditions, and cause water retention.
- Cut back on sugar. This is good advice at any age. Soda, cookies, ice cream, baked goods, candy, and similar are all sources of sugar that can be trimmed from your diet. These sugar-infused foods often have little nutritional value, and are effectively empty calories, adding to your waistline, raising your risk of diabetes and heart problems, and doing nothing positive for your health.
- Avoid excess saturated fats. Some saturated fat in your diet is healthy, but too much – in the form of butter, cheese, milk, and other dairy especially – can increase cholesterol and heart disease risk. Try reducing saturated fat intake, and use healthier fats instead, such as olive oil.
- Eat sugary fruits in moderation. Not all fruits are created equal, and just because something is a fruit does not automatically mean it’s healthy. Grapes and cherries are two examples of fruits that are extremely high in sugar, and should only be enjoyed in moderation.
- Reduce carbohydrate intake. You don’t need to cut out all carbs from your diet, by any means. However, reducing the amount or percentage of carbs can help with weight maintenance or loss. Avoid things like donuts, pastries, crackers, and similar carbs. Potatoes, rice, and pasta are fine in moderation. Cutting back on bread, dinner rolls, and other similar carbs can help with calories, weight, and metabolism, as well as helping you to better-regulate blood sugar and hunger.
- Limit alcohol intake. Most alcohol is full of calories and sugars. While there is evidence that drinking wine can be beneficial, most studies suggest limiting that to one glass per day. Drinks with larger alcohol content can also become harder for your body to process as you get older, leading to more pronounced hangover effects, as well as causing damage to your liver and kidneys. Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it can exacerbate the need to use the bathroom several times during the night, as well as disrupting sleep patterns in its own right.
- Cut down on fried foods. Fried foods can be delicious, but are full of those pesky saturated fats we mentioned above. They also are heavier and tend to stick around in the stomach for a longer period of time than most other foods. This can increase the frequency and intensity of heartburn or indigestion, which tends to increase naturally as we age.
- Monitor vegetable and dairy intake. No one is suggesting you shouldn’t get a lot of vegetables in your diet, and some dairy, too. However, both food groups have been shown in some people to cause significant gas and bloating, especially if eaten later in the day. Monitor your intake of these foods, and if they bother you, try eating them earlier in the day, or swapping them with other options.
- Limit coffee intake. Some coffee has been shown to have positive effects on the immune system and metabolism. Too much caffeine can also increase trips to the bathroom, exacerbate heart problems, and impact sexual function.
Individual dietary needs and responses to different foods will naturally vary, and there are plenty of foods that aren’t on this list that you may want to avoid for one reason or another. Always consult with your doctor if you are concerned about not getting enough of a particular vitamin, mineral, or food group in your diet. However, by following the above advice and avoiding these foods and food groups, if possible, you’re likely to maintain or improve your overall health, manage your weight and metabolism, and remain active and healthy into your 70s, 80s, and beyond.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I eat when I’m over 50?
Most experts recommend a variation on the classic Mediterranean diet as the best approach for healthy eating at any age. Lots of vegetables and lean protein, minimal processed carbs and sugars, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and olive oil make this a balanced and healthy diet.
What foods can slow down the effects of aging?
There are many so-called superfoods out there that purport to reduce the effects of aging. Many of them have not been backed up by science, or their effects borne out conclusively in studies. Still, some evidence suggests leafy greens, blueberries, peppers, avocado, almonds, sweet potatoes, papaya, and pomegranate seeds all have specific enzymes or chemicals in them that can help offset the effects of aging, in addition to being packed with vitamins and minerals.
How can I stay healthy at 50 and beyond?
Diet is just one part of staying healthy as we age. Regular exercise is a necessary complement to remain fit and active. This should be paired with regular check-ups and doctor visits to monitor your health, a vitamin supplement if recommended by your doctor, and any prescribed medications to manage conditions or symptoms. Remaining social and mentally engaged is also important, especially in reducing the risk of dementia or related problems. Brain teasers, puzzles, hobbies, and similar can help keep you mentally sharp.
Maintaining a proper diet as we age becomes more and more important in managing our overall health. Eating well and avoiding empty calories and problem foods like those discussed in our guide above can help to maintain weight, boost the immune system, maintain brain function, and cut disease risk, among other benefits. A good, healthy diet is essential to enjoying a long, happy, healthy life to ensure you get the most out of your golden years!
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.