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Healthy Aging

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Nutrition: What You Need to Know for Healthy Aging

A Johns Hopkins nutritionist sets the record straight on common misconceptions about nutrition for healthy aging.

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Q&A
Which Berry is the Most Nutritious?

They’re all healthy choices, but the “best” distinction may well go to black raspberries, says Johns Hopkins nutritionist Joshua Nachman, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N. A raspberry cousin with a deeper color, they provide very high antioxidant levels along with fiber and relatively little natural sugar. “They’re the most nutrient dense of all the berries,” he says. Tied for a close second, he says, are blackberries and their cousins, Marionberries.

When it comes to healthy aging and your diet, there are plenty of mixed up “facts” that need to be unraveled, says Johns Hopkins nutritionist Joshua Nachman, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N. Here, he separates nutrition fact from fiction.

Myth: You should avoid dairy as you get older.

Truth: Only if it aggravates your stomach or digestive system.

Our bodies often become less tolerant of certain foods as we get older, says Nachman. Dairy is one of them because production of the enzyme lactase, which aids in the digestion of dairy, decreases as we age.

But unless you’re not feeling well after having dairy products (symptoms such as gas and bloating), there’s no need to start shunning dairy as part of your nutrition for healthy aging.

Myth: You can only get calcium from dairy.

Truth: Many other foods are surprisingly good sources.

If you can’t tolerate dairy anymore (see above), you can still meet the daily recommended amount (1,300 mg to help prevent osteoporosis) by eating foods like bok choy (79 mg per serving) and white beans (96 mg). Other foods with calcium: spinach (146 mg), salmon (181 mg) and sardines (325 mg). 

Myth: You should switch to a low-carb, high-protein diet.

Truth: It’s better to follow a well-balanced eating plan that helps you maintain a healthy weight.

Protein does help build muscle mass—something our body naturally loses after the age of 50 (thus the importance of resistance training). However, Nachman says, what’s most important for those over 50 is achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

For that goal, he says, “Eat a plant-based diet of whole foods with occasional animal products while practicing sustainable calorie restriction.” One eating plan that most medical experts support for healthy aging is the Mediterranean diet.

Myth: You should avoid saturated fats.

Truth: Some can be good for you. Instead, focus on eating more healthy fats.

“There is good nutrition science supporting the benefits of good saturated fats like coconut oil or avocado oil,” says Nachman. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (found in foods like nuts and fatty fish) are also nutritional allies.

“Just don’t make fats—of any type—half of your diet,” he says. Bear in mind that fats help our bodies absorb many key vitamins and minerals for healthy aging.

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