Switch up your meal routine with these pro-aging alternatives.
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dried apricots in white bowl
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Health concerns, chronic illnesses, and fitness goals mean the aging process is different for everyone—and so are the specific nutrients required for optimum health. "There are many factors that impact our nutrient needs throughout our life, which makes nutrition recommendations something that should be individualized," says Caroline West Passerrello, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "However, for folks who want to prevent chronic diseases and maintain or improve their quality of life as they age, there are a few general recommendations. Quality of life is also subjective and relative, but a focus should be to improve food security status, prevent malnutrition, avoid unnecessary illnesses, maintain muscle mass, and prevent dehydration."

Essential nutrients for healthy aging include protein; omega-3 fats; antioxidants—especially vitamins A, C, and E for immune support; potassium; calcium; and fiber, says Passerrello. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods can help adults maintain muscle mass, prevent malnutrition and dehydration, and offer benefits to long-term brain health. But, notes Passerrello, "It's not just what we eat, but why and how that are important." For example, she says, "foods eaten with company prevent isolation and depression"—a key element of healthy aging. If you're already filling your diet with health fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, try Passerrello's favorite ways to switch up your snacks without sacrificing nutrients. The following suggestions might surprise you, but they absolutely deliver the pro-aging essentials you need for a long, robust life.

Load up on red peppers for vitamin C.

Instead of an orange, try red bell peppers. "Cup for cup, red bell peppers have more vitamin C than an orange," says Passerrello. "They also contain vitamins A and E, which, along with vitamin C, are antioxidants."

For potassium, branch out beyond bananas.

"Bananas are a good source of potassium, however, most adults would need to eat about 8 to 10 bananas a day to obtain the recommended amount of potassium—2,600 to 3,400 milligrams per day—for generally healthy folks," says Passerrello. "Or, you could have one-half cup dried apricots (1101 milligrams), one cup lentils (731 milligrams), one medium baked potato (610 milligrams), one cup of orange juice (496 milligrams), and one banana (326 milligrams)."

Count on protein-rich almonds.

Plant-based proteins, yogurt, beans, and nuts are all healthier (and more sustainable) alternatives to red meat; Passerrello especially recommends almonds, which contain fiber and vitamin E in addition to the six grams of protein you'll get from one-quarter cup of the nuts.

Add grapes for hydration.

Keeping your body hydrated improves digestion, blood pressure, energy levels, and concentration. Water is the best choice, since it doesn't add sugar or empty calories to your diet, but fruit counts toward your total, too. "Try grapes," recommends Passerrello. "Not only are they important for immune function with their antioxidants and polyphenols, but grapes are 81 percent water, which can help toward your total fluid intake and preventing dehydration."

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