Eating to live longer

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The science is clear: Eating the right foods can lead to a longer, healthier life.

Yet some people, as they get older, find it harder to eat right. This can happen for many reasons: Maybe they don’t feel like eating. Maybe they have trouble cooking or eating. Maybe they don’t know what’s healthy.

Maybe they do and they just don’t like the idea of kale.

“You know what? You can live a long, healthy life and never eat a piece of kale,” says Cheryl Rock, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

She’s all for finding food that you like — healthy food — and building on that.

“If you’re eating foods you like, then you’re more likely to stick with it. You won’t force it down for four days and then go out for a double cheeseburger,” Rock says.

It’s more than just finding the right foods. Michele Bellantoni, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, points out that you need to eat them in the right amounts, too.

“It looks like the optimal calories [for most older adults] will be 1,800 [a day],” she says. “And for successful aging, we think about the entire body, rather than just specific organs.”

Many foods are especially good for certain parts of your body. Bellantoni suggests starting with 1,800 calories, then splitting that up with proteins for your muscles, calcium for your bones, and a basic heart-healthy diet.

That approach can do a lot of things for you:

It Can Help Your Heart

A basic heart-healthy diet can help you control your weight. That’s important because more than a third of people 65 and older are obese. That can lead to diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.

Foods that are good for your ticker also help you control your cholesterol and blood pressure. That can help keep heart disease at bay.

So what is a heart-healthy diet? One that includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products like yogurt and cheese
  • Skinless poultry
  • Lots of fish
  • Nuts and beans
  • Nontropical vegetable oils (like olive, corn, peanut, and safflower oils)
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