If you've turned 50, chances are your days as a fast-cruising hot rod are in the rear-view mirror.
At this point on life's journey, you are more like a dependable sedan with 75,000 miles. You likely have many years to run – but only if you follow the recommended maintenance schedule.
Switching to a more healthful diet is crucial as we age, says Angel Planells, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"We can't stop aging, but we can definitely make choices that will lead to a higher quality of life," he says.
Following are five foods that can improve your health on the winding road through the second half of life.
1. Hot red chili peppers
Can eating spicy foods lengthen your life? That's the claim of a newly released study from researchers at Robert Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.
Eating hot red chili peppers reduces total mortality by 13 percent, the study found. It is believed that a diet rich in such peppers lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Researchers think capsaicin – the main component of chili peppers – contributes to cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and regulate coronary blood flow. Other spicy foods might provide similar benefits, the researchers say.
If you're looking to shed pounds, an apple a day should become part of your diet.
A medium-sized apple has just 95 calories and comes with 4.4 grams of dietary fiber, Planells says. It is also a good source of vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, C, E and K, as well as folate and niacin) and minerals (potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc).
Planells says he likes to add a bit of peanut butter to his apple. "I have the perfect snack, which comes with some heart-healthy fat, protein and sweetness that leaves me satisfied until my next meal," he says.
Everybody wants to age with a healthy body and a clear mind. Eating spinach and other green, leafy vegetables might help protect you from dementia.*
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that older adults who ate one or two servings of green leafy vegetables had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger.
Some key nutrients – especially vitamin K – appear to produce the brain-boosting benefits, researchers say.
In addition to protecting your mind, spinach is good for your body. It contains nutrients that promote good vision and reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Spinach also contains folate that can boost heart health, and magnesium that helps lower blood pressure.*
If spinach doesn't appeal to you, try kale, mustard greens or collards.
4. Baked potatoes
When you were younger, you probably loved to munch sugary candies, cakes and ice creams. Potato chips and other salty foods are also a guilty pleasure for many people.
However, Planells urges you to rethink these patterns as you get older. "Choose the more nutrient-dense options," he says. "Instead of having french fries or fat-fried vegetables, let's look at consuming a baked potato or sweet potato."
Steamed vegetables are another good option, he said. In fact, fruits and vegetables of all kinds are better than processed foods and confections.
"They bring fiber, which can help relieve constipation," Planells says. "The potassium content in many fruits and vegetables can have an effect on our blood pressure, and their antioxidants may reduce your incidences of disease."
Choose oatmeal for breakfast instead of sweet cereals and sugary muffins. Oats offer many health benefits. A German study found that patients with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance were able to reduce insulin dosage by 40 percent after switching to an oatmeal-rich diet.*
Whole oats also have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Just remember to avoid instant oatmeal, which is typically is loaded with sugar, salt and other unhealthy ingredients.
Instead, choose plain rolled oats or steel-cut oats. For flavor, add fresh fruit and spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.