Some of the best diets to follow as you get older—DASH (to reduce the risk of high blood pressure), MIND (to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s) and Mediterranean-style (often recommended for those with diabetes or heart disease)—include many of the same foods in their meal plans. That makes sense, because a balanced diet centered on healthy foods is good for you, whether or not you are trying to control or prevent a specific disease. Researchers from Tufts University and Harvard School of Public Health have found that regularly eating the following six foods from these diets may also help prevent age-related weight gain:
While almonds and walnuts often get the highest marks for healthfulness, most nuts are rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats. So, go ahead and enjoy a mix! A handy snack food, chopped nuts are also good in both fruit and vegetable salads, mixed with grain and rice dishes, and sprinkled over hot and cold cereals. Watch the amount you eat though—a quarter cup of mixed nuts contains 200 calories.
#2. Nut Butter
Nut butters, including peanut butter, contribute the same disease- and weight-fighting nutrients as whole nuts. Look for unsalted brands with no added sugar, molasses or other sweetener.
Not only is yogurt an excellent source of high-quality protein and calcium, but as a fermented food, it supplies beneficial probiotic bacteria that help keep your digestive tract functioning properly and may provide other physical and mental health benefits as well. Avoid sugary, flavored yogurts and add your own fresh fruit (and nuts!) to plain varieties.
All fish are rich in protein and fattier fish, like salmon, mackerel, and herring, are also rich in omega-3 oils that have been linked to reduced inflammation and lower risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. The American Heart Association and other health experts recommend eating fish at least twice a week to reap the benefits.
#5. Low-fat Cheeses
When it comes to some processed foods, especially high-carb (high sugar) cakes, cookies, and pastries, the terms “low-fat,” “reduced-fat” and “fat-free” are not synonymous with “low calorie” or even “healthy,” because you end up eating more sugar and starch that can easily contribute to weight gain. When you choose lower fat and part-skim cheeses (just as you choose reduced-fat and skim milk), however, you are often gaining a little protein, as well as reducing some of the total and saturated fat in your diet that may be contributing to weight gain and heart disease.
#6. Chicken (without skin)
Like fish, skinless chicken is a lean source of high quality protein and essential vitamins and minerals that has long been on the list of heart-healthy, weight-friendly foods to include in your diet. You can leave the skin on to help flavor the meat while cooking and discard (along with any visible fat) before eating.
The same researchers also found that adults who routinely include certain carbohydrates in their diets—such as white bread, white rice and white potatoes—have a tendency to gain weight as they got older. It goes without saying that too much of these and sugary carbs like soft drinks and baked goods will pack on the pounds, but it isn’t just the amount of these foods that matters, it’s the poor quality of refined and starchy carbs that makes the difference. You’ve heard it before, but for the sake of your health and your weight, it’s smart to replace these foods with high-fiber alternatives: whole-grains and plenty of legumes, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables.
4 “Health” Foods that May Not be as Healthy as You Think
Now that we all know “fat-free” is not synonymous with “calorie-free,” or even “healthy”, we can put that fad behind us. But new buzz words like “fresh,” “energy,” “multigrain” and “alternative” have taken the place of “fat-free,” and those can be just as tricky when it comes to figuring out what to eat and what to avoid. Watch out for these four:
#1. Some Multi-grain Breads, Crackers and Breakfast Foods
No matter what it says about whole grain or multi-grain products on the package, any bread, waffle, pancake, muffin, cracker or chip with less than 3 g fiber per serving (or slice) falls into the same category as similar products made with white flour or other low-fiber, processed grains. Meals and snacks that are high in fiber fill you up faster, keep you feeling full longer, and help keep your blood sugar in better balance.
#2. Energy Bars
Is that a quick and healthy snack or meal alternative in your hand, or just a simple candy bar? Sometimes it’s hard to tell because the nutrition varies so much from product to product. Some energy bars are high in sugar and fat, which means they fall into the junk food category regardless of what the label implies. Compare the nutrition information on different bars and choose those with the least amount of sugar and saturated fat. For weight control, a higher fiber bar is your best choice (as long as you aren’t getting too much fiber in your diet overall, which can lead to bloating and gas).
#3. Fresh Juices
Fresh carrot-beet-apple juice is loaded with vitamins but, just like their canned and bottled cousins, there can also be a lot of sugar in fresh juices, especially those that are predominantly fruit juice or made with veggies like carrots and beets that are high in natural sugar. Plus, juicing removes all the fiber from the fruits and vegetables. For the sake of your weight and your glucose levels, stick to a very small size, and have your juice with foods from other food groups, like an egg or a piece of reduced-fat cheese. Better yet, have your fruits and vegetables whole, or in a smoothie that retains the fiber. It’s not only healthier for you, it’s more filling and a lot less expensive!
#4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter or lard, but because it is a different type of saturated fat than is found in animal products, some say it’s better for your heart and your overall health. Coconut fat is often recommended as an alternative to other cooking fats. But not all experts are convinced that coconut oil is better for you than olive oil or other vegetable oils that are low in saturated fats. When it comes to heart health (and weight control), the total amount of any type of fat in your diet also matters. So use coconut oil as sparingly as any other fat in your diet.