Doug Hershberger M.S., CSCS, USAW
1. Drink lots of water.
While not quite the magical liquid of the mythical fountain of youth, it’s the closest substance you’ll find. From improving skin and hair quality to helping improve and maintain healthy body weight to minimizing sickness, increasing your water intake is indeed the most important healthy eating habit you can adopt. The kidneys, which begin declining around the age of 30, play a multi-faceted role in not only preventing age-related health decline, but also improving your body’s functionality. According to the USDA, the Adequate Intake for under-30 males is 3.7 liters and for under-30 females, 2.7 liters. But keep in mind that this includes any water you may get from food, which is estimated at about 0.7 liters for men and 0.5 liters for women. This estimation also doesn’t take into consideration whether a person is active, in which case more water should be consumed. Men, aim for at least 3 liters or 12 cups and women for at least 2 liters or 9 cups each day.
2. Fast occasionally.
Fasting has been a common practice for thousands of years and while it has been misused in a variety of ways, it can be a profitable healthy eating habit to develop before getting older. Currently a hot topic in the research, fasting has been shown to stimulate cell turnover and rejuvenation, the process of which can act to help prevent cancer. Fasting also improves neurological function, working against age-related dysfunction and can act to ‘reset’ your brain’s hungry and full signals, helping you avoid over-eating. It is important to remember that fasting is not a healthy weight-loss tool, but rather, one proactive component of your healthy life.
3. Schedule family mealtimes…and stick to them!
We all have busy lives these days and meals often find themselves at the bottom of the priority list, which is why this healthy eating habit may be more important than you think. Over at The Family Dinner Project (thefamiltydinnerproject.org), Anne Fishel, Ph.D. writes that among several benefits, developing the healthy eating habit of eating together can “…lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.” Whether it’s with your family, another family, or a family of friends, scheduling mealtimes with others is a healthy eating habit that is as beneficial as often as it is implemented.
4. Learn to appreciate all foods.
Nearly everyone has a food or list of foods that they dislike. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it is important to recognize and utilize the benefits of all foods. As we age, our senses decline, including smell and taste. Learning to enjoy all tastes and their combinations in food is a healthy eating habit that not only capitalizes on the pleasure our senses can bring when eating, but also enhances to the diversity of foods we eat and the healthy benefits we may gain from them. Taste buds, the sensory cells in the mouth are estimated to last only up to about 3 weeks before they are replaced with new cells. This means that over time, a person may be able to develop a palate for foods they may have not enjoyed before. Begin by routinely eating small portions of a food you don’t like, eventually increasing those portions until you begin to develop a taste for it.
5. Set aside at least 5 meals a week to prepare on your own.
Taking time to cook is an essential healthy eating habit to begin anytime, but the older we get, the less conducive our lives are to picking up and putting to practice the skills required for meal preparation. Given that most people eat about 21 meals a week, 5 self-prepared meals a week isn’t so bad for the benefits it can have. Not only does taking time to cook your own food make you more aware of what ingredients the meal contains, but it also is informative about what is contained in foods you don’t prepare on your own. A recent research review noted that meal preparation at home is associated with a significant increase in the healthfulness of the meal, including an increase in vegetables and fruits and a general decrease in calories (Reicks 2004). While the time, thought, and effort required to shop for, buy, and prepare a meal may be intimidating at first, the process can actually become easy and fun after a little bit of practice. There are plenty of cookbooks to choose from, not to mention many online resources. Simply pick a recipe and try it!
6. Aim to have a source of protein in every meal.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which among many other roles, primarily act as structure for the muscles of body. With age, the body tends to structurally break down over time, the most notable deconstruction occurring in the muscles. This can begin as soon as the age of 30 and while often directly affected by a natural change in hormone levels, lack of adequate protein can speed up the muscle-loss process. Additionally, because protein is necessary for every cell in the body, consuming it often ensures that there is enough for optimal function throughout the body. The best source of protein is from whole foods and the most ideal way to consume your daily requirement is from multiple sources, spread out through every meal. Also remember to increase your protein intake if you increase your physical activity.
7. Be sure to routinely get fats from whole food sources.
If you adhere to healthy eating habit 6, you will often inadvertently adhere to this habit because quality protein from meat is accompanied by quality fat. By the age of 30, your hormones have begun to change the way they influence the body’s metabolism and accordingly, composition. This age-related, hormone-driven change goes from fat-burning and muscle-developing to fat-storing and muscle-depleting. The best way to minimize this effect is not to avoid certain fats or fat altogether, but to ensure that you are consuming fat from whole, quality sources, and start doing so before turning 30. While it isn’t difficult to get your daily requirement of fat when eating the average Western diet, it is important to make consumption of quality fats a healthy eating habit. This is best accomplished by eating less processed foods such as meat (especially fish), nuts and seeds, some vegetables, and healthy oils.
8. Develop a breakfast routine.
Many of the most successful people in history developed a morning routine and stuck to it. There is a large amount of research that supports the fact that routine provides the structure for success and stability. A breakfast routine may simply consist of coffee and a bagel while listening to the radio on the way to work or a bowl of cereal and the newspaper before leaving. But in any instance, developing a morning routine within which you can maintain a healthy habit of eating breakfast each day provides the order and energy to function at your prime, every time.
9. Drink coffee.
The research on coffee for the past 50 years has been small and indecisive until recently. Now that the popularity of the drink has drastically increased, research on its impact have followed suit. A prevailing amount of studies now declare the healthfulness of coffee when consumed on a regular basis. A recent multi-study review came to the conclusion that drinking coffee was significantly associated with a decreased risk of death and this association was greater for those who drank 5–9 cups of coffee compared to those who only drank 2–4 cups (Je and Giovannucci 2014). So in addition to your other healthy eating habits, enjoy your brew and don’t be afraid to have another! Just keep in mind the additional calories that accompany all the coffee additives such as sugar and milk.
10. Take time to eat mindfully.
Mindfulness is a highly useful art that can be applied to nearly every aspect in life, though sometimes difficult to implement in our fast-paced world. Mindful eating is a healthy eating habit that can take time to develop, but the benefits are rewarding in the long-term. Research has shown that even by the youthful age of 30, changes take place in the body that begin the aging process. But getting older doesn’t have to be an unpleasant waste and living mindfully can change that. What better time to start than before you reach 30? There is an assortment of mindful eating resources on the web, but you can begin with this simple healthy eating exercise: take 5 minutes to eat a piece of chocolate. Take time to see it, touch it, hear crinkle of the wrapper, smell it, and finally, taste it. Then begin applying this practice routinely to meals and other activities in life.
National Research Council (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Reicks, M., Trofholz, A. C., Stang, J.S., Laska, M.N. (2014). Impact of Cooking and Home Food Preparation Interventions Among Adults: Outcomes and Implications for Future Programs. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 46 (4), 259–76.