Maintaining a healthy diet during older years can promote healthy aging and protect the body against diseases that older adults are at higher risk for, such as dementia and heart disease. Incorporating superfoods such as berries and nuts into an everyday diet may be beneficial to healthy aging.

“Good nutrition across the lifespan helps prevent chronic disease — and we know that it’s never too late to make improvements to support healthy aging. Older adults are at greater risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer — as well as health conditions related to changes in muscle and bone mass, such as osteoporosis,” reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The good news is that this population can mitigate some of these risks by eating nutrient-dense foods and maintaining an active lifestyle.”

Here are five superfoods that may support older adults in healthy aging through disease prevention, increased cognitive function and bone health.

What is a superfood?

A superfood is a nutrient-dense whole food rich with benefits. Berries, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts are all superfoods due to the health advantages they boast.

“Superfoods help promote health by increasing your immune function and decreasing your chance of disease prevention or progression,” says registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, per Cleveland Clinic. “Superfoods help promote health by increasing your immune function and decreasing your chance of disease prevention or progression.”

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1. Berries support memory retention

Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are a superfood known to protect cognitive function, including memory retention, per Scientific American.

“Adding a handful of berries to the diet each day is one of the first and easiest changes I recommend to those looking to improve their brain health,” said Uma Naidoo, M.D., director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, per the AARP.

A 2023 study from King’s College London reports that adding just a handful of wild blueberries to everyday diet may improve brain function. Researchers asked a group of older adults aged 65-80 to consume wild blueberry powder each day for three months. They experienced improved memory and increased accuracy on attention tasks.

“It’s clear from this study that consuming wild blueberries is beneficial to cognitive function,” said professor Claire Williams, chair of the Neuroscience Department for University of Reading, per King’s College.

“The group who had the wild blueberry powder showed signs of better memory and greater mental flexibility when completing cognitive tasks.”

Another study, from the journal Annals of Neurology, found that blueberries and strawberries may slow cognitive decline in older women. Researchers closely tracked a group of more than 16,000 women for nearly two decades. They found a strong association between higher berry consumption and slower rates of cognitive decline.

Blueberries, in particular, may be beneficial to memory retention. A study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that the anthocyanins — a chemical compound known as a flavonoid — in blueberries supported improved memory in older adults.

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2. Nuts are heart-healthy

Eating a handful of nuts each day is linked to enjoying a longer, healthier life.

A 30-year study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals who ate nuts at least seven times each week experienced a 20% lower death rate during the duration of the study, compared to those who ate nuts less frequently.

“We found that people who ate nuts every day lived longer, healthier lives than people who didn’t eat nuts,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, incorporating nuts into a healthy diet can aid heart health by:

  • Improving artery health.
  • Reducing risk of blood clots.
  • Decreasing risk of high blood pressure.
  • Reducing risk of death from heart disease.
  • Lowering bad cholesterol levels.
  • Lowering inflammation associated with heart disease.

A large, 32-year study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that a high intake of nuts (peanuts, tree nuts, walnuts) was linked to a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers reported that individuals who consumed a 1-ounce serving of nuts at least five times each week had a 14% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 20% decreased risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared to individuals who rarely ate nuts.

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3. Fatty, oily fish boost brain health

In addition to protecting against risk of heart disease, improving sleep and safeguarding aging eyes from macular degeneration, fatty fish are the ultimate brain food.

Fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel, are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids the body uses to build nerve and brain cells, research shows.

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association reports a strong link between regular fish consumption (once per week) and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Habitually eating fish may boost brain health during middle age. In a study published by the journal of Neurology, researchers followed a group of more than 2,000 dementia-free, stroke-free individuals with an average age of 46. Participants with a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids had significantly larger hippocampal volumes — the hippocampus part of the brain plays an important role in memory and learning. Researchers noted that these individuals are less likely to get dementia.

“Studies have looked at this association in older populations. The new contribution here is that, even at younger ages, if you have a diet that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, you are already protecting your brain for most of the indicators of brain aging that we see at middle age,” said Claudia Satizabal, lead study author and assistant professor of population health sciences with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio, per a press release.

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4. Fruits and vegetables promote healthy bones

Maintaining a diet rich with a variety of fruits and veggies promotes healthy bones and can protect against osteoporosis, a bone disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle.

“Studies show that eating more vegetables and fruits will improve bone health,” reports the Mayo Clinic. “These foods are generally lower in calories and fat, and they are high in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. They also contain phytochemicals, which are substances that can protect against various diseases, including osteoporosis.”

One of the leading causes of osteoporosis is increased bone turnover — the process in which bones break down and form new bone, research shows.

A study from the journal Nutrients found that older women who frequently consumed a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs had high levels of bone-protective antioxidants and decreases bone turnover.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables during childhood and young adult years may promote stronger bones, increased bone maintenance and higher bone mineral density, research shows, which could benefit bones during older age.

5. Avocados improve skin appearance

Avocados are a rich source of healthy fats. Incorporating healthy fats into your diet, like those found in avocados, can promote flexible, wrinkle-free and moisturized skin, reports Healthline.

Frequently eating avocados can boost skin elasticity and firmness, found a study from UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition.

During the study, women of all ages were instructed to eat one avocado each day. A control group of women were told to stick to their typical diet. After eight weeks, the women who ate avocados daily experienced a significant increase in skin elasticity, firmness and overall health.

“This study showed more accurately that if you want your skin to be young and vibrant, then the best approach is not just topicals, but improving your whole diet. When you take care of your entire body with proper nutrition then your skin is going to reflect that,” said Dr. Zhaoping Li, chief of the division of clinical nutrition at UCLA, per UCLA Health.

Additionally, avocados are a rich source of vitamin E, which behaves like an antioxidant in protecting skin cells from damages, per Cleveland Clinic. As you age, your body naturally loses vitamin E, so consuming it through foods like avocados could be advantageous for skin health.

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