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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Eating for Longevity

Foods to keep your heart, brain, and bones healthy.

Foods for a Vital Brain continued...

Coffee: A growing number of studies suggest that coffee has several surprising health benefits. In addition to potentially lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, drinking coffee may reduce the risk of age-related mental decline.

The latest evidence comes from a Finish study of 1,409 volunteers published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease in 2009. It found that people who regularly drank coffee during their middle-aged years were significantly less likely to suffer dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. Those who drank three to five cups daily had a 65% reduction in risk.

Foods for Strong Bones

Bone loss and osteoporosis are among the leading reasons for disability in later life. And once seniors become disabled, their health often declines in many other ways. Although some bone loss with age is inevitable, eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D can slow the process and prevent disabling fractures. Among the top choices:

Low-fat dairy products: “The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium,” says Robert P Heaney, MD, a leading expert on osteoporosis. “But adequate levels of protein are also necessary to keep bones strong.” For that reason, he argues, dairy products like milk and yogurt are the best sources of calcium because they contain the full array of nutrients needed for healthy bones.

Dark green leafy vegetables: Collard greens, spinach, and broccoli are good sources of calcium.

Tofu: Look for brands made with calcium sulfate, which contain the highest levels of calcium. A half-cup contains about 250 milligrams of calcium. (Adult women should consume about 1500 milligrams a day, according to Heaney.)

Unfortunately, getting enough vitamin D turns out to be trickier than getting enough calcium. Although many foods are fortified with vitamin D, diet alone isn’t able to provide enough. Our skin converts sunlight to vitamin D; but with age, that process becomes less efficient. (During the winter months in most parts of the United States, the sun is too weak to generate vitamin D production.)

While experts continue to debate the optimal levels of vitamin D, Heaney recommends taking 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) a day in supplement form. Boosting vitamin D is particularly important as you get older, he points out, since the skin becomes less efficient at generating this crucial nutrient from sunlight.

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