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Food for thought: Ways to prepare your body for a healthy retirement

Diet and longevity
Diet has big impact on healthy aging 04:25

Whether you're looking to lose a few pounds or just want to push your diet in a healthier direction, the motivation is very simple: You are what you eat. The foods you consume over time have a lasting impact on your body, and the choices you make as you age can affect your odds of longevity and good health in your later years

There are some common recommendations, but dietary needs vary from person to person. For example, while three square meals a day may be the traditional standard, it's not necessarily the best option for every individual. 

"There's a concept called biochemical individuality, which means that there are some people that will do well with eating three large meals a day, and some people will do better with five small meals a day," said Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, who is a physician and nutritionist based in New York City. "When working with a nutritionist, we can really dig deep down into what's helping with your metabolism."   

It can be extremely confusing at times to understand what your metabolic needs are, especially when health and fitness experts are constantly recommending different diets. But there are certain guidelines that may help future-proof your body as you age. 

Researchers have found that people who stick to the Mediterranean diet — which is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts and whole grains — tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, strokes and dementia.

The DASH diet (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was designed by doctors to reduce blood pressure and all the health issues related to it. People who follow this diet tend to limit their intake of sugar, salt, red meat, saturated fats and total fats, while eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry.

Overall, doctors say heart-healthy diets also protect the blood vessels in your brain. Following these types of eating plans may help to preserve your cognitive function as you age.   

Recent studies have also added to the evidence that carbohydrates are a particular dietary concern. In fact, a diet heavy on refined, processed carbs could put you at risk for premature death. But on the flip side, consuming three or four servings of vegetables, legumes and fruits per day is associated with a lower risk of dying at a young age. 

When it comes to incorporating those pieces of dietary advice into a plan that works for you over the long term, certain personal characteristics may come into play.

"The most important thing is to recognize is that there's got to be some balance. We kind of like to give people a general idea about how to figure out their metabolic type based on how their body looks," Morrison said. "We look at most people like Ferraris and some people like Mercedes."  

In Morrison's analogy, bodies that operate like a Ferrari are calorie burners. They have very fast metabolisms and ideally should consume small, frequent meals throughout the day. Bodies that operate more like a Mercedes do not need to eat as often; perhaps two or three times each day. 

If you're looking to beat the battle of the bulge, and you're serious about following a healthy diet, eliminate bad eating habits like junk food and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Snacking on healthy foods keeps your metabolism running, which in part helps to diminish your hunger level. At the end of the day, you may actually wind up consuming fewer calories.     

People who follow a diet with the intention of losing weight often fall into some common misconceptions about counting calories. 

"Calories are always an important part of the conversation, but again, some people have faster metabolisms than others," Morrison said. "So, for some people, they have to eat more calories in order to fuel their engine."

In order to shed a few pounds, Morrison says a "very good rule to follow" is consuming high-fiber foods such as "whole grains and whole beans rather than processed foods." 

"Superfoods" like salmon, kale, blueberries, beans, and acai berries are examples of nutrient-packed foods that get a lot of attention for their dietary benefits. But is the hype surrounding trendy superfoods worth the expense? 

"Think of superfoods like condiments," Morrison said. "It shouldn't be the main part of the meal. It should be like a side dish. We like to have a little bit of each one, sometimes during the day, but not as the main part of the meal." 

He also recommends getting antioxidants to protect your body from free radicals that may contribute to chronic conditions and cancer. Experts say it's best to absorb antioxidants naturally through fruits and vegetables rather than taking supplements. 

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