Vegetables are always going to come out on top as a favorite food recommendation from dietitians. Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, other disease-fighting compounds, carbohydrates, and proteins. Some of the specific diseases that vegetables battle on our behalf are age-related chronic conditions.
Increasing vegetable consumption, especially green vegetable consumption, is referenced repeatedly through research and by nutrition professionals as a primary way to improve your health, including in your 50s and beyond. Here we take a closer look at these green vegetables and ways to boost intake to help you live life fully in your later years.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that deteriorates the central part of the retina, or macula, and leads to visual impairment. Spinach contains vitamin A and the carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin, which all play an impactful role in protecting the eye against sun damage and eye changes due to aging. There is evidence that shows the average American diet includes just one to three milligrams a day of lutein and zeaxanthin while about six milligrams per day have been associated with decreased risk of AMD.
You can reap spinach’s eye health-supporting benefit whether you eat the leafy green fresh, canned, or frozen.
Kale is a low oxalate, calcium-rich vegetable. Oxalate is a compound that inhibits calcium absorption, so finding a veggie that packs in the calcium, while keeping oxalate at bay, is key for bone health. Adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D are crucial nutrients in building and maintaining strong bones.
After age 50, bone mineral density begins to significantly decline as bone breakdown outpaces bone formation, thus leaving us more prone to bone diseases such as osteomalacia or osteoporosis.
If throwing kale into a salad isn’t your thing, try making kale chips by mixing a couple of handfuls with a tablespoon of olive oil and baking in the oven until crispy, or blending into a smoothie.
As a dietitian, I like to debunk the myth with my clients that romaine (and iceberg) lettuce doesn’t have nutritional benefits. In fact, romaine lettuce, and other leaf lettuces, contain serious amounts of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. And because romaine lettuce is so well-liked, accessible, and affordable, it is the easiest “gateway” green to recommend increasing in our diets. Romaine lettuce comes in at under 10 calories a cup and this is especially helpful with keeping weight in check as body weight becomes harder to stabilize after 50 years old. Try using romaine lettuce as a wrap or boat for your next spring roll or taco.
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint disease, and it’s estimated that 40 percent of people over 65 have some type of osteoarthritis. An anti-inflammatory style of eating is the best dietary approach to protecting our joints. Broccoli is a vegetable that is included in this eating pattern and contains a compound called glucosinolate. Some research, like this randomized controlled trial published in 2017 in Scientific Reports, has found glucosinolates can prevent cartilage destruction, thus protecting joints. Increase broccoli intake by dunking it in a ranch dip as a snack solution or mixing it in with your next macaroni and cheese.
The last vegetable to make the list is Swiss chard. Dark leafy greens are called out in the “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet as a food to have every day. The MIND diet is rooted in eating patterns found in the DASH and Mediterranean Diet, with additional emphasis on foods that have been linked to better cognitive function and delayed cognitive decline. A randomized controlled trial manuscript of the MIND diet published in Contemporary Clinical Trials in 2021 confirms that dark leafy greens are a core piece of the MIND diet that are likely protective against the age-related disease Alzheimer’s dementia. Swiss chard does can be a welcomed addition to a stir-fry or mixed into your next soup recipe.