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The best foods to help older people fight fatigue

It’s common knowledge that we can start to feel more tired as we age. But what you eat and drink can play a bigger role than you might think — especially when it comes to just how fatigued you feel.

“Processed foods, sugary foods, high saturated and trans fat foods, refined grains and alcohol tend to be foods that can contribute to things such as weight gain, inflammation and chronic diseases, which can ultimately lead to an increase in fatigue,” explains Jordan Hill, a registered dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching.

On the flip side, consuming adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables can ensure you’re getting appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals, which are essential for energy production, she says.

We spoke with Hill and other registered dietitians to weigh in on the best food to combat fatigue for people 50 and older, as well as other activities that can help offset sleepiness.

Top food to combat fatigue

Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for the calorie-tracking app MyFitnessPal, says beans and lentils are her No. 1 pick for a number of reasons. “The slow-digested carbohydrate, protein and resistant starch in beans provides long-lasting energy while promoting blood sugar balance (a key factor in balanced energy),” she says. “Beans are also a good source of magnesium, a nutrient that promotes healthy sleep, especially in individuals who wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep.”

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Researchers at the Sleep Foundation estimate that 40 percent and 70 percent of older adults have chronic sleep issues, but Palinski-Wade says with less interrupted sleep, your energy levels can improve — especially if you’re eating more legumes.

“Beans and lentils are affordable, easy to prepare and versatile,” she says. “You can use dried beans and soak them to incorporate into various recipes or purchase canned beans that are ready to consume.” She also recommends looking for varieties with no added sodium or sugar and eating a half-cup serving at least three times weekly.

Additional energy boosters

If beans and lentils aren’t your thing, or you think adding them to your regular recipe rotation might be a stretch, have no fear — plenty of additional ingredient options will boost low energy levels.

Hill says that if she were to highlight one specific nutrient for the 50-plus population, it would be protein because it’s often overlooked and under-consumed. “Try consuming protein with every meal and snack you eat,” she urges. “At the barest minimum, people should be eating 0.8 gram protein per 1 kilogram of body weight and may even need more based on your activity levels, health status and goals.”

Ingesting more protein doesn’t have to mean overdoing it in the steak department either, which could be problematic for anyone with high cholesterol. Instead, Hill suggests leaning toward leaner cuts of protein such as chicken, turkey and fish, or plant-based protein sources such as tofu, tempeh and seitan.

The one exception to this recommendation is anyone with kidney disease. “These individuals should consult with their doctor and dietitian about appropriate protein amounts,” she adds.

Palinski-Wade also recommends stocking up on prunes if you’re feeling sluggish. “This no-sugar-added dried fruit provides a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates for steady energy throughout the day,” she says. “Eating five to six prunes per day can protect against bone loss — which is especially important for people over 50 with a greater risk of developing osteoporosis — but pureed prunes can be used to replace added sugar in baked goods and recipes, which may further improve energy levels.”

Here are a few more of Palinski-Wade’s favorite energy-boosting foods to try:

Quinoa: A complete protein source that also contains fiber and complex carbohydrates.

Salmon: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health and reduce inflammation.

Leafy greens: Spinach and kale are a great source of iron and vitamins that combat anemia-related fatigue.

Berries: Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that can help boost energy levels.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds provide healthy fats, protein and fiber for sustained energy.

Greek yogurt: High in protein and probiotics, supporting digestion and muscle health.

Oats: Rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber, oats release energy slowly and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Eggs: Packed with protein and B vitamins, eggs can affect energy metabolism.

Water: Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining energy levels and overall bodily functions.

Whole grain bread: Provides complex carbohydrates and fiber, gradually releasing energy.

Why does fatigue increase as we age?

“Oftentimes we experience higher levels of stress as we age, which contributes to an overall feeling of tiredness,” says Jennifer Scherer, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified personal trainer and owner of Fredericksburg Fitness Studio in Virginia. “In addition, we experience a 15 percent decline in muscle mass for every decade we age,” she says.

While that isn’t the best news, it doesn’t mean you can’t take action to feel better. Less muscle mass leads to decreased endurance and contributes to sluggishness throughout the day, which is why Scherer recommends strength training to her clients as another way to boost energy at 50 and older. “Try incorporating strength training for 30 minutes at least four days weekly, drinking at least 64 ounces of water daily and consuming a fruit or vegetable per meal,” she says.

Hill also points out that staying active, engaging in hobbies, socializing and learning new things often is another way to stay young physically and mentally.

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