The Dietary Habit Change a Registered Dietitian Is Begging People Over 50 to Make ASAP

Most people are creatures of habit. You wake up, head to the kitchen and pour yourself a cup of your favorite morning drink (whether it’s coffee, tea or juice) without even thinking about it. Maybe you even eat the same breakfast every day. There’s likely a handful of go-to meals you rotate through regularly because constantly inventing the dinner menu is a mental drain. When you go out to eat, you don’t have to look at the menu to know what you’re going to order to drink.

Can you relate? What we eat and drink regularly greatly impacts health. If you’re in your 50s or older, you might not have considered how your habits should change as you age. Are there nutrients you need to be extra conscious to get more of? Foods and drinks you might want to minimize because of how they may impact the aging body? According to one dietitian, there’s a common drink many people consume every day that she wishes people 50 and older would drink less of.

Related: The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do if You're Over 60 and Want To Stay Healthy

Should Dietary Habit Change As You Age?

For guidance on how to eat in a way that covers the bases for all the nutrients your body needs, registered dietitian Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CND, recommends using (created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) as a resource. As a kid, you may remember being taught the food pyramid; this is the new-and-approved version of that, which takes into account the latest science on what the body needs from birth into old age.

While the same basic principles of eating healthy apply no matter how old someone is (such as prioritizing plant-based foods with at least half of each meal consisting of vegetables and fruit and making half of the grains in one’s diet whole grains), Amidor says that the 50s is a crucial time to think about one’s diet because it’s when the risk of certain chronic diseases and health issues increases. For example, the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity all increase after 50.

Related: This Is the #1 Sign That Someone Is Aging Well, According to a Geriatrician 

“[Health changes as we age] include the increase in muscle loss that begins in the 40s and continues in the 50s. Bone health can become more of a concern in the perimenopausal time frame [for women],” Amidor adds.

With this in mind, she says that there are certain nutrients that people in their 50s and older should be extra mindful that they’re getting enough of. “The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans call out four nutrients that are under-consumed for all life stages, including folks in their 50s. These nutrients include calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber,” she says. Additionally, Amidor says it’s important to make sure that the protein sources that are consumed are high quality, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, fish and seafood, poultry and lean meats.

Related: 30 of the Best Anti-Aging Foods To Make Sure You Are Incorporating Into Your Diet

What To Consume Less of After 50

While Amidor believes that all foods and drinks can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation, there’s something, in particular, she wishes everyone—especially people in their 50s and older would consume less of for the sake of their health: sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sweetened teas and lemonade.

“According to the dietary guidelines of Americans, sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one contributor of added sugar in the American diet,” she says. Regularly consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity—all of which people in their 50s are already at an increased risk for, as mentioned earlier.

Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that half of adults in the U.S. drink a sugar-sweetened beverage every single day. Their data also found that people who consume sugar-sweetened drinks regularly are also more likely to have other unhealthy habits in place, like smoking and eating fast food regularly.

If you have a soda, sweet tea or another type of sugary drink every day—or every time you go out to eat—replacing it with a healthier drink is one small change you can make that can greatly impact your health. Instead, sip on water with fruit, sparkling water or herbal teas with no sugar. Amidor, who is an ambassador for the National Dairy Council, also says not to overlook milk, which is a good source of calcium and vitamin D—two nutrients that are increasingly important after 50 as bones become more brittle.

“Not only can the nutrients found in one cup of milk help fill nutrient gaps, but research shows that it may be helpful with a variety of health conditions including bone and muscle health, immune health, inflammation, heart health, diabetes and weight control,” she says.

It bears repeating that it’s the foods and drinks you consume regularly that impact health the most. Switching a sugar-loaded drink out for a healthier option is one step you can take today that will support your health for years to come. Small actions matter when done daily!

Next up, here are 16 healthy soda alternatives.