When you were a kid, you might’ve wanted pizza, cheeseburgers, and ice cream for every meal. And as a young adult, maybe you scraped by on heavily salted instant noodles, rice, and beans. But as you get older, what you eat plays an extra important role in your overall health.
Diet fads come and go. Low-fat this and sugar-free that line the shelves. Yet one of the largest and most important parts of a healthy diet for adults over 50 is the often misunderstood carbohydrate.
What Are Carbs?
They can be your friend or enemy, especially when you’re older than 50.
Good carbs, bad carbs. Carbs are naturally in many foods, such as fruits, veggies, and grains. These are often called “good" carbs. They’re also added as sugars or starch to processed foods, such as sodas, chips, and candy. These are called “bad" carbs.
Processed foods that have bad carbs are the worst for your health. They overload your body with extra sugar, starch, and other unhealthy stuff. By choosing natural alternatives, you’re giving your body healthier amounts of sugar, starch, and fiber.
What carbs do. Good carbs have many jobs, including:
- Giving you energy
- Lowering your chances of getting health problems like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes
- Helping you control your weight
Numbers and Carbs
Good carbs should make up about half of your daily calories. Processed foods with bad carbs are "empty" calories that lack nutrients. They don’t give you the health benefits of good carbs. To keep track of your numbers, read the "Nutrition Facts" on your food labels.
Following a healthy diet after 50 doesn’t need to involve number crunching and avoiding carbs completely. Simply being mindful of where your carbs come from can make a big difference.
Benefits of Choosing Good Carbs
Diet and nutrition. As you get older, a balanced diet helps you stay healthy. Since carbs make up about half your diet, good carbs are the key to a healthy eating plan.
Healthy eating habits can:
- Help your body’s defenses, or immune system.
- Help you stay at a healthy weight.
- Lower your odds for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and bone loss.
Good nutrition may also:
- Boost your focus, alertness, and memory.
- Lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Lift your mood.
- Improve the appearance of your skin and hair.
Carbs to Avoid, Plus Better Bets
Sugary drinks, sodas, and fruit juices. These often have added sugar. You can replace them with sparkling seltzer water that has real fruit juice or with lightly sweetened teas.
White bread. Simply substitute your normal sandwich bread for a whole grain or whole wheat option.
Pasta. Like bread, opt for the whole-grain or whole-wheat types of your favorite pasta. Or use vegetables like zucchini and squash to make “veggie noodles”.
French fries and potato chips. Even fat-free and low-sodium chips are packed with bad carbs. Chips made from sweet potatoes or black beans can be a healthier option. You can also make a variety of veggie chips at home.
Cookies, cakes, and pastries. You probably won’t be shocked to know that the amount of sugar and butter in most baked goods is bad for you. Try satisfying your sweet tooth with fresh, frozen, or dried fruit.
Candy, chocolate, and ice cream. As with baked goods, fresh fruit is a good substitute for these types of junk food.
White rice. It’s not as bad as other processed foods, but it’s not as healthy as whole-grain alternatives like brown rice or quinoa.
Flavored yogurts. It takes a bit of extra work, but adding fresh or frozen fruit to your favorite plain yogurts will cut out a lot of the bad carbs that are in flavored yogurts.
Sugary cereals. Most of these have a lot of bad carbs. Consider replacing sugary cereals with natural, whole-grain versions. Or switch to unprocessed oatmeal with fresh fruit.
Even when you’re thinking about buying food that’s labeled “low fat” or “sugar free,” always double-check the Nutrition Facts to understand what you’re getting. Choose a natural alternative when you’re considering a low-fat or sugar-free option.