6 whole foods every older adult should eat

Add these to your grocery list to help you live stronger and maybe even longer.

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Good genes, a good workout, and good company aren’t the only secrets to healthy aging. Good foods — as in good for you — play a big role too.

Nourishing your body with the right mix of foods (Spoiler: Eat your veggies!) can help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, obesity and more, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here’s a short list of foods to put on your shopping list to help protect your health and slow the aging process.

Healthy Aging Food #1: Bananas

This popular fruit is full of health benefits. One medium banana has roughly 422 mg of potassium, an electrolyte that helps your body regulate fluid balance and muscle contractions. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans lists potassium as an “under-consumed nutrient.”

That same banana also packs 10 mg of vitamin C. Vitamin C can help fight disease because it is an antioxidant. Antioxidants can get rid of unstable molecules in the body (called free radicals) that damage cells.

This cell damage may contribute to heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In fact, a 2015 highlight in Chemistry & Biology found that vitamin C can be deadly to some cancer cells.

Try This!

  • Add sliced banana to your PB&J.
  • Make banana-cinnamon yogurt: Add a diced banana to plain Greek yogurt, plus a spoonful of honey with cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

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Healthy Aging Food #2: Cherries

In a study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, people with gout who consumed cherry extract had a 35% lower risk of gout attacks than those who did not.

Cherries reduce uric acid levels in the blood. Keeping these levels low helps to stop urate crystals from collecting in joints and triggering gout attacks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But it’s not just about gout — an Osteoarthritis Research Society study found that people with osteoarthritis who drank 16 ounces of tart cherry juice a day for six weeks felt less pain and stiffness.

Cherries also contain anthocyanins, which may protect the heart, control obesity and reduce diabetes risk, according to the American Society for Nutrition.

Try This!

  • Add dried cherries to oatmeal, cereal, or trail mix, or eat them as-is with some cheese.
  • Whip up a cherry smoothie: one small banana, ½ cup frozen cherries and ½ cup low-fat milk (or almond, coconut or soy milk).

Healthy Aging Food #3: Onions

Inside those layers hide antioxidants and nutrients — including vitamins B6 and C and folate — that can help prevent age-related diseases, including stroke and dementia, according to the NIH.

A Harvard School of Public Health study found that older women who weren’t getting their recommended daily allowance of folate were at a higher risk of cognitive decline.

These potent flavor boosters are also good for heart health. A 2015 British Journal of Nutrition study showed that onion skin extract, which is a good source of the antioxidant quercetin, can help lower blood pressure.

Onion skin isn’t edible, but you can get some of that good stuff by adding the peelings to soup stocks and sauces as they cook. (Strain them out before eating, of course.)

Try This!

  • Layer rings of onion onto your favorite deli meat sandwich.
  • Grill an onion. Slice an onion into ½-inch-thick rounds, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, plus seasonings like thyme and garlic powder. Coat the grill grate with olive oil and grill the onion rounds over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Find a new favorite dish

Looking for healthful new recipes to tempt your taste buds? Try some of these delicious ideas to liven up your table. Browse Renew's collection of recipes by signing in to your plan website and going to Health & Wellness. Then look for the Recipe Library in the Quick Links section. Not a member? Learn more here.

Healthy Aging Food #4: Beans

Beans are brimming with fiber — an incredibly important nutrient for older adults for a few reasons.

First, it’s common for your digestive system to get a little more sluggish as you age, and fiber is a great fix. Second, fiber plays a key role in helping reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and maintain a healthy weight, both according to the Mayo Clinic.

And for anyone who’s set a goal of enjoying more plant-based meals, beans are an easy way to get enough protein. One cup of kidney beans offers 13 grams of protein — that’s as much as in 2 ounces of chicken breast — and a whopping 11 grams of fiber.

Try This!

  • Top your salad with chickpeas or other beans of your choice.
  • Make black bean dip. In a food processor, blend 2 cans of drained low-sodium black beans, ¾ cup salsa, 4 minced garlic cloves, 2 tsp. fresh lime juice, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. water and ⅛ tsp. salt. Puree until smooth; then add ¼ cup minced cilantro and pulse until combined. Serve with low-fat tortilla chips or your favorite veggies.

Healthy Aging Food #5: Carrots

Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A. Snacking on a half cup of carrot sticks will net you 459 micrograms of the vitamin, more than half of the recommended daily amount, according to the NIH.

We all grew up hearing that vitamin A helps keep your eyes healthy. But the NIH points out that the antioxidants in carrots, including vitamin A, may also lower your risk of certain cancers.

Along with those antioxidants, carrots count as a non-starchy vegetable, explains the American Institute for Cancer Research. And that puts them in the group of foods that may help decrease the risk of colorectal, stomach, lung and others when eaten often.

Carrots also contain vitamin K, which helps maintain strong bones to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Try This!

  • Dip raw baby carrots into ¼ cup hummus or other bean dip.
  • Bake crispy carrot chips as a snack. Peel carrots, and then use the peeler to create long strips. Toss the strips with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet (making sure they don’t overlap) and bake at 425 until crispy, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Healthy Aging Food #6: Cabbage

Cabbage makes a base for fabulous recipes like coleslaw and sauerkraut. Like its cousins broccoli and brussels sprouts, cabbage also offers anticancer compounds, the American Institute for Cancer Research notes.

Red cabbage also contains anthocyanins, which is a flavanol. A flavanol is a type of plant nutrient. The flavanols in red cabbage can help keep your heart, liver and eyes healthy. In sauerkraut, fermented cabbage is used as the base. Some evidence from the Journal of Physiological Anthropology suggests that such fermented foods may help improve your gut health and alleviate mood disorders.

Try This!

  • Top a chicken brat with tangy sauerkraut.
  • Wrap chicken salad or other meat fillings in cabbage leaves instead of a standard flour wrap. 

Also worth a try: An in-home checkup from HouseCalls

UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls brings yearly check-in care to you in your own home. Connect for up to a full hour of 1-on-1 time with a member of our licensed medical staff. You’ll get a physical, health screenings and plenty of time to talk about your health questions, including ones about nutrition. It’s a great way to feel confident about your health knowing an extra set of eyes is looking out for you between regular doctor’s visits.

To see if your plan includes HouseCalls and to schedule your in-home visit today, call 1-800-934-0280 or click here.

*HouseCalls may not be available in all areas.