Fact Sheet: Food as Preventive Medicine

The food we eat today can affect how we feel tomorrow. Well-nourished older adults not only feel better, they also recover faster from illnesses, spend less time in the hospital, and can possibly live longer than their peers. Aging bodies require less calories but have increased need for some vitamins and minerals. New research shows that your food choices can impact your risk for getting major long-term diseases and the severity of the complications of those illnesses.

Food choices directly relate to the leading causes of illness and death:

Heart Disease

Risks for heart disease can be reduced with a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, moderate in total fat, and rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, and nonfat dairy products.


The National Cancer Institute estimates that 35% of cancer deaths may be related to dietary factors. A diet that is high in fiber, grain products, fruits, and vegetables, but low in fat can reduce the risk of getting many kinds of cancer.


Foods low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol reduce the risk of stroke.

Food-Related Risk Factors:


If you are overweight, you have an increased chance of developing high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. Controlling or losing weight can reduce stress on the joints and can help avoid further damage from painful arthritis.

High Blood Cholesterol

High blood cholesterol levels can contribute to heart disease and stroke. Eating a diet low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and eating soluble fiber, can help to lower blood cholesterol.

High Blood Pressure

Treating high blood pressure reduces risks for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. Even moderate weight loss and sodium restriction can reduce blood pressure significantly in older adults, as can exercise and eliminating smoking.

Healthy Food Choices

Fruits and Vegetables - 5 servings a day

Foods Rich in Fiber - 20 to 35 grams a day

High fiber foods, particularly when combined with a low-fat diet, helps protect against colon/rectal cancer, heart disease, and stroke. There are two types of fiber. Insoluble fiber helps move waste through the intestinal tract and prevent constipation, while helping to satisfy the appetite (whole wheat breads, cereals, vegetables, and bran). Soluble fiber helps to reduce blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels (oats, beans, fruits and vegetables). To increase the health benefits of your food, get 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily (on average most people get only 11 grams daily). Add fiber to your diet gradually to prevent problems like diarrhea, constipation or diverticular disease.

Calcium and Vitamin D - 1200 to 1500 mg. a day

It is never too late to improve your bone health by eating calcium-rich foods. The National Institute on Aging recommends that men and women aged 50 and older take 1,200 mg. of calcium every day; and that women past menopause should have 1,200 to 1,500 mg. of calcium daily. Some studies suggest that calcium may play a protective role against colon cancer and lower the incidence of kidney stones.

Sources of Calcium

Sources of Vitamin D


Increased calcium intake can reduce the risk of osteoporosis by as much as half. Osteoporosis is a slow, progressive bone-weakening disease that can affect both men and women as they age. Almost half of women over age 50 suffer from bone fractures due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects the majority of people over age 70. Bones become so fragile that they fracture with normal use and falls have a much greater likelihood of causing serious injury.

Eat MORE of these foods:

Eat LESS of these foods: