As you get older, your body changes in several ways. Some of these changes are unavoidable, but others are things that you can actively prevent. For example, as we age our body has a much harder time processing certain foods. This is because our metabolism slows down and we don’t process nutrients the same way as when we were younger. Certain foods have an especially negative impact on older people as well.
Even if you take all the right measures to stay healthy, some foods can cause problems if you eat them too often or in large quantities. As you grow older and begin to appreciate each day, even more, it’s important to know how to avoid problem foods as you age—and start eating in a way that’s better for your body at this new stage of life.
What’s a Problem Food?
A problem food is any food that hurts your health. The term is not used in a judgmental way though. Instead, it’s just a way of describing any food that can lead to health problems in some people. This term covers all foods, healthy and unhealthy. Some problem foods are on the unhealthy side, like processed foods, high-fat foods, and foods that are high in sodium.
Others are on the healthy side, like fruits and vegetables. Any food can become a problem food, though, if you eat too much of it. Even healthy foods aren’t good for you if you eat too much of them. No one can eat a completely problem-free diet, but there are steps you can take to avoid problem foods as much as possible.
One of the biggest problems is food is also one of the most obvious: processed foods. Many processed foods contain a lot of salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. For example, many packaged snack foods (like crackers, chips, and cookies) contain a lot of fat and sugar. In some cases, processed food can also be high in sodium. In the United States, most packaged foods are required to list their sodium content.
But many people don’t look at the sodium numbers or even know that sodium is a problem for some people. In addition to being high in sodium, many processed foods are high in refined carbohydrates. These are the same carbs that you’ll find in sugary snacks and desserts.
Fat and Cholesterol
As you age, your cholesterol levels naturally increase. This is normal and healthy for most people. But if you’re older and your cholesterol levels are out of whack, you could be at a higher risk of health issues. Cholesterol is found in many foods, including eggs, certain types of fish, and certain dairy products.
But cholesterol isn’t just in foods; your body also produces it. As you age, your body produces more cholesterol—especially if you eat a lot of foods that are high in cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential to good health in small amounts. But too much of it can harm your heart and blood vessels.
This can lead to things like heart attacks and strokes. Cholesterol can also increase your risk of developing certain cancers.
Salt and Sodium
As you age, your body is less able to get rid of sodium. This can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and other serious health issues. Most people should try to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
For people who are 51 and older, the recommended amount is even lower: 1,500 milligrams per day. Unfortunately, many people don’t know that excess sodium is a problem for them. You can avoid problem foods like excess sodium by reading food labels.
Most foods will have their sodium levels listed on the label, so you can choose foods with low sodium content.
As you age, you’ll want to eat fewer carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found in things like bread, rice, and pasta. They’ve been a staple of the Western diet for decades, but they’re not the best source of energy for everyone. Some people (especially those over the age of 50) will do better with fewer carbs in their diet.
A low-carb diet is the best way to avoid problem foods like excess carbohydrates. You don’t have to go on a low-carb diet forever, but you should take steps to reduce your carb intake as you age. This can help prevent some conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
As you get older, experts recommend increasing the amount of protein in your diet. Protein, like carbohydrates, is a source of energy. But it’s also essential for overall health. Most people can get enough protein by eating a balanced diet. But if you’re older, you might need more protein. Try to include high-protein foods in at least two meals each day.
Protein is found in many different types of foods, including fish, eggs, beans, and nuts. It’s also found in milk and cheese (which are both excellent sources of calcium).
Calcium and Vitamin D
As you age, you lose bone mass and can become more prone to bone fractures. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to prevent or slow down this process. You can protect your bones by eating a diet rich in calcium. The best sources of calcium are dairy products like milk and cheese. Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting enough calcium in their diet.
This is especially true for people who are 51 and older. For this reason, many older people take calcium supplements. Vitamin D is also important for bone health. It’s possible to get enough calcium through your diet, but you won’t be getting enough vitamin D unless you’re regularly going in the sun.
If you aren’t getting enough calcium and vitamin D, you can take supplements to make up the difference. Just be sure to check with your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.
As you get older, you’ll want to pay extra attention to your diet. It’s easy to fall into old habits and start eating like you did when you were younger. But if you keep an eye out for problem foods, you can eat a healthier diet as you get older. Because everyone is different, you’ll want to take steps to reduce your intake of problem foods.
For example, if you eat too many carbs or don’t eat enough protein, you may develop health problems. You may even want to talk to your doctor about what you should be eating as you get older. The best way to avoid problem foods as you age is to be informed and make small changes to your diet.