Reaching the age of 50 is a milestone that often brings a new perspective on life, including how we look after our health. What we eat plays a crucial role in maintaining our well-being, especially as we grow older. Certain foods, once harmless or even beneficial, may not agree with us the same way they used to.
In this article, we'll explore seven foods that you might consider avoiding or limiting once you cross the half-century mark.
1. Processed Desserts
Cookies, candies, cakes, ice cream, and packaged sweet bakery items qualify as processed desserts. They share common traits like added sugars, refined flour, and unhealthy fats that make them problematic for health after 50.
Impact on Health
The added sugars and refined carbs in sweets and desserts cause rapid blood sugar spikes. They contain little fiber, protein, or fat to slow digestion. So the surge of glucose entering the bloodstream triggers overproduction of insulin by the pancreas.
When overwhelmed by continual sugar highs, cells start resisting signals from insulin. This insulin resistance causes blood sugar highs to persist uncontrollably, leading to type 2 diabetes.
Pre-diabetes and diabetes rates do climb starting from age 45. Easy access to empty-calorie processed treats contributes to this rise in aging populations.
Excess insulin also tells the body to store fat and blocks signals for burning fat. This drives weight gain and obesity – and is implicated in many aging diseases like cancer and heart disease.
The refined grains found in baked goods lack important B vitamins, magnesium, fiber, and protein needed to properly metabolize carbohydrates too. Deficiencies in these can worsen blood sugar regulation.
Sweet processed items also introduce compound dangers like:
- Trans fats found in packaged baked goods and desserts raise bad LDL cholesterol levels. This drives atherosclerosis and heart attack risk.
- Cancer-promoting food colorings like Red #40 and Yellow #5.
- Preservatives like butylated hydroxyanisole and sodium benzoate added in candies, soda, and cake mixes are linked to cellular damage and hyperactivity.
Skip the packaged sweet snacks and desserts whenever possible after 50. But when only a sweet treat will do, go for healthier options like:
- Fresh fruit – berries, figs, apples, grapes, bananas, etc. Provide natural fiber.
- Unsweetened Greek yogurt – High protein keeps blood sugar stable.
- A small handful of dark chocolate chips – Antioxidant benefits.
- Maple syrup, honey, dates, or stevia for baking at home.
2. Cured Meats
Bacon, sausage, beef jerky, salami, ham, hot dogs, smoked meats, canned meat, and corned beef fall under the umbrella of cured or processed meats.
The sodium nitrite used for processing and preserving gives these meats their characteristic pink color and smoky flavors. However, eating less cured and processed meat after age 50 provides notable health benefits.
As we age, experts recommend limiting red and processed meat intake as they appear to influence risks for:
- Heart disease
- Colorectal cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
The nitrites used to cure meats combine with amino acids during digestion to form compounds called nitrosamines. These convert into free radicals and carcinogens proven to damage cell structures like DNA.
Just small quantities of processed meat lead to higher cardiovascular mortality by over 18%. Frequent intake also heightens the incidence of stroke by 24%.
A meta-analysis of over 800,000 participants confirmed just 50-gram portions of processed meat daily raise colorectal cancer likelihood by 18%. Breast and prostate cancer risks go up as well.
The high saturated fat and sodium levels impair blood vessel function, putting further strain on the aging heart. They drive hypertension, atherosclerosis, blood clots, and arrhythmias.
Going meatless just 1-2 days per week provides tangible health perks like reducing heart disease-associated death by 8% and cancer mortality by 17%.
Healthier Protein Alternatives
For healthier protein alternatives to cured meats, emphasize:
- Lean poultry
- Hearty beans and lentils
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Tofu or tempeh
- Low-fat dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
3. Fried Foods
French fries, fried chicken, potato chips, corn chips, doughnuts, and other deep-fried foods pose multiple concerns for aging individuals.
Why They’re Risky After 50
The act of frying food at extremely high temperatures introduces negative changes:
- Oxidation of delicate fats when exposed to air, light, and heat. This generates free radicals and compounds linked to cancer and liver damage.
- Creation of toxic, inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGES). These accelerate aging throughout the body.
- Destruction of beneficial polyunsaturated fats, leaving mostly saturated and trans fats.
Frying significantly increases the calorie, fat, sodium, and carbohydrate load of otherwise healthy ingredients like potatoes or chicken.
The high fat and sodium content strains the heart, promotes weight gain in less active adults, and exacerbates digestive issues like acid reflux or ulcers.
Eating fried foods just 1-3 times weekly elevates the risk of death from heart disease or stroke before 65 by 23% compared to less than once weekly.
Healthier Cooking Methods
Skip deep frying your foods to avoid these negative effects.
Healthier cooking methods include:
- Pan searing, baking, broiling, grilling, roasting, sautéing, or stir-frying in olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil.
- Microwaving veggies to quickly steam them.
- Investing in an air fryer lets you make crispy “fried” foods without excess oil.
4. Soda / Soft Drinks
Sodas offer tasty sweetness but provide very little nutritional value in exchange. The high sugar content generally causes more long-term harm than good.
Lack of Nutrition coupled with health risks:
- Soda only provides empty calories, caffeine, and food coloring – no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or protein.
- A 12-ounce can of cola contains 9-10 teaspoons of added sugar plus phosphoric acid for a tangy flavor. This floods the liver with sugar and fructose it’s not equipped to process properly.
As the body produces more insulin and fat in response, excess calories readily convert into visceral belly fat. This type of fat acts as an endocrine organ itself - secreting inflammatory signals, disturbing hormones, and increasing insulin resistance.
Greater visceral fat stores clearly associated with heightened colorectal cancer risk regardless of BMI. This may help explain why slender individuals can still get “diseases of obesity” like diabetes and cancer.
Dehydration often plagues aging adults already due to reduced thirst signals. Caffeinated sodas act as diuretics, exacerbating this issue. Chronic mild dehydration then further strains kidneys and vascular health.
Drink milk or fortified plant-based milk rather than soda for better bone health. The phosphoric acid in colas leaches precious calcium from bone tissue. Postmenopausal women especially require sufficient calcium intake to minimize rapid bone loss.
Healthy Drink Alternatives
Skip the soda after 50 and choose from:
- Herbal tea – green, ginger, turmeric, hibiscus, etc. Provide antioxidants.
- Kombucha – Supplies probiotics for gut and immune support.
- Fresh juice – Focus on low-sugar options like tart cherry, green veggies, grapefruit, pomegranate, or tomato juice.
- Sparkling water with lemon, lime, berries, or cucumber. Try infused combinations like mint and grapefruit or pineapple and basil.
- Coconut water – Natural electrolytes prevent dehydration.
Moderate alcohol intake is associated with certain health benefits like reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, blood clots, and dementia.
However, alcohol affects aging bodies differently, so intake should be carefully managed. The impacts of alcohol intensify after 50:
Effects on Older Adults
- Increased stimulation, then deeper depression of the central nervous system.
- Delayed reaction time and coordination from even very small amounts of alcohol. Makes falls and accidents more likely.
- Disrupted sleep cycles and insomnia.
- Exacerbated liver disease.
As we age, the body loses muscle mass while gaining a higher percentage of body fat. This means older adults reach much higher blood alcohol concentrations compared to younger people consuming the same drink.
Higher blood alcohol levels impair coordination, cognition, reaction time, mood, and libido to a greater degree. It also intensifies the drowsiness caused by alcohol, making activities like driving extremely dangerous.
Even with moderate drinking, alcoholism rates rise steadily from 3.5% for people aged 45-65 up to nearly 5% for those over 65. Going over daily limits occurs easily due to impaired judgment and accountability from drinking.
The carbohydrates and empty calories in alcoholic drinks also encourage increased appetite and weight gain when consumed regularly. This strains the metabolism and contributes to diabetes risk.
Alcohol also commonly interacts with prescription medications older adults take for conditions like hypertension, anxiety, depression, and insulin regulation. Combining the two can potentiate side effects of sedation, dizziness, or liver toxicity.
Tips for Drinkers Over 50
The key is always moderation and accounting for age-related changes when drinking. To drink responsibly:
- Follow doctor recommendations for alcohol limits or avoid it altogether if managing chronic diseases.
- Limit to 1 drink daily for women; and 2 for men.
- Include ample water before, during, and after drinking to prevent severe dehydration.
- Choose red wine for antioxidant benefits or low-sugar mixers like soda water or diet tonics.
- Eat before and while drinking to slow the absorption of alcohol.
6. Pre-Packaged Meals
Pre-packaged meals like frozen dinners or microwaveable lunch kits provide effortless cooking. But the convenience often means more processed ingredients and masked health issues.
Understanding the Risks
These meals often contain:
- Excess sodium, over 1000mg per meal – the daily limit. Drives hypertension.
- Sugar and refined grains to boost flavor. Spike blood sugar.
- Preservatives like sulfites, sodium benzoate, and nitrites. Trigger reactions.
- Vegetable oils high in inflammatory omega-6 fats are linked to oxidative damage.
- Artificial colors and emulsifiers are banned in other countries for toxicity concerns.
As metabolism slows and activity levels change with age, pre-packaged meals drive unwanted weight gain in older populations. Even without weight gain, excess calories age cells faster through processes like glycation.
Overly processed ingredients also lack crucial nutrients for health like magnesium, potassium, zinc, and B vitamins. Deficiencies accumulate over decades, undermining immunity and energy.
Benefits of Homemade Meals
Preparing meals at home lets you control ingredients, customize nutrition, and potentially save money. Additional perks include:
- Incorporating a wider variety of fresh, seasonal whole foods to increase fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. These fight inflammation and disease.
- Retaining more vitamins and minerals destroyed by heat, light, and air during industrial processing. Enhances nutrition density.
- Promoting intuitive eating by using hunger and fullness cues. Makes maintaining a healthy weight simpler.
- Allowing the social and cognitive benefits of cooking. Finding meaning through preparing food remains important for mental health as we age.
Tips for Quicker Homemade Meals
- Double recipes on weekends and freeze half for fast weeknight meals
- Cook once, and eat twice by repurposing leftovers into new dishes.
- Stock up on frozen fruits/veg, canned low-sodium beans, tuna, and whole grains.
- Use time-saving tools like pressure cookers, slow cookers, and air fryers.
- Let marinades and slow cookers do the flavoring work for you.
7. High-Sodium Foods
Sodium naturally occurs in whole foods, but processed foods introduce the most excess and dangerous amounts of sodium to aging diets.
Impact on Health
High sodium intake negatively affects aging bodies through:
- Increased fluid volumes in blood vessels, forcing higher pressure (hypertension)
- Straining the kidneys as they struggle to excrete the overload
- Putting pressure on organs like the heart and eyes
- Exacerbating mineral imbalances and deficiencies
With age, kidney function and the number of functional nephrons decline. This reduces the body’s capacity to filter excess sodium properly. What the kidneys can’t excrete builds up in blood, cells, and tissues – increasing fluid volumes.
But aging blood vessels stiffen and lose elasticity too. They cannot stretch adequately to handle greater fluid volumes without blood pressure rising.
Elevated blood pressure causes silent damage throughout the body over years without clear symptoms. Small vessels in organs like the kidneys, heart, eyes, and brain suffer microtears, bleeding, and plaque growth impeding flow.
Eventually, serious health events like heart attacks, vascular dementia, kidney failure, blindness, or strokes occur. After age 50, sodium intake is directly associated with cardiovascular disease risk.
Strategies to Reduce Sodium
- Choose fresh, whole foods over canned, processed, and restaurant fare
- Read nutrition labels closely to pick lower sodium options
- Skip the salt shaker by favoring herbs, spices, citrus and vinegar
- Rinse canned items like beans or tuna before use
- Cook at home as much as possible where you control added salt
Paying attention to diet becomes especially crucial around age 50 as the body grows more vulnerable to lifestyle factors that may accelerate aging and disease.
Certain foods like processed desserts, fried fare, soda, and alcohol put more strain on aging bodies if consumed regularly. Prioritizing fresh, whole-food alternatives supports better health and longevity.
Small, consistent changes towards better nutrition have added up enormously over decades. But the rewards of improved well-being in our later years make nutritional awareness after 50 worth the effort.