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5 Foods to Skip After 50

They're probably not worth it, no matter how you slice 'em

five foods to avoid pictured are french fries bottled tea instant packaged oatmeal bagged chips and frozen pizza

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En español | We're not going to lie. Eating healthily after 50 means effort on two fronts: boosting your intake of good-for-you foods such as berries, leafy greens, whole grains and lean proteins while cutting out the foods that clog your arteries and oh-so-easily expand your waistline.

When it comes to the latter, focus less on making certain foods verboten (who doesn't suddenly want chocolate when told never to eat it?) and more on how your health is more important than the sugar spike or instant satiety they offer. When possible, just say no — or at least “Whoa!” — to the following.

Skip it: Fried foods that triple the calories

If it helps, pause to imagine the vat of oil that basket of fries or onion rings has been submerged in, and consider how its saturated fat “may have a negative impact on blood cholesterol,” says Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, Connecticut. Not sure how to cut back? Here are three expert tips:

1. Christine Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and coauthor of Food & Fitness After 50, says that because frying tends to triple the calories in foods, you should invest in an air fryer. (She swears by hers.)

2. Alicia Ines Arbaje, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School, says to save your fats for dinner and to avoid them at breakfast and lunch.

3. Thomas Loepfe, M.D., a geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Go with grilled, not fried."

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Bottom line: Get the side salad instead of restaurant fries. And when you're looking at labels, consider that “a 200-calorie serving of food should have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat,” says Nancy Farrell Allen, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Skip it: Sugary drinks, including most bottled teas

Soft drinks aren't your only enemy. Bottled teas, fancy coffee drinks and “fresh” lemonades can all be loaded with the sweet stuff. “For example, the 16-ounce chai latte at Starbucks, one of its most popular drinks, has 42 grams of sugar,” Rosenbloom says.

With bottled drinks, beware of misleading labels. “Just because a drink says ‘pure’ or ‘green tea’ or ‘honey’ doesn't mean it has less sugar,” Rosenbloom says. And products touting their organic cane sugar, coconut sugar or raw sugar? “Sugar is sugar,” she adds.

Bottom line: “Aim to keep added sugar intake to 10 percent or less of total daily calories,” Gorin says. “For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, that would be no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams of added sugar per day."

Skip it: Packaged foods with sneaky sugars

"Hidden sugars can be found in pasta sauces, yogurt, granola bars, instant oatmeal packets and breakfast cereals,” Allen says. Why's that so harmful for older adults? “Excess sugar can put stress on organs such as the pancreas and liver,” Allen says, “which can increase blood sugar and blood triglyceride levels and raise the risk of fatty liver disease.”

Adds Loepfe: “Sugars increase one's risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the incidence and prevalence of which increase as we age.” And at a time in life when every calorie should be nutrient-dense, “added sugar really contributes to calories we don't need,” he says.

Bottom line: Check labels for added sugars — but don't fret over natural sugars in fruits or milk.

Skip it: High-sodium instant meals (think: frozen pizzas) 

"Seventy-five percent of people over age 60 have high blood pressure. And even if you're on medication, you want to lower your sodium intake,” Rosenbloom says. If you think you're eating a low-salt diet because you don't salt your grilled corn or soup, consider that frozen pizza or canned soup you just heated up.

"Seventy-five percent of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods, not the salt shaker,” she says. So what can you do? An easy way to spot low-sodium foods, she notes, is to look for those in which sodium is 5 percent or less of the daily value; anything in the 20 percent range is high-sodium.

Bottom line: Aim for 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Skip it: Ultra-processed snacks

Unless you're picking an apple from a tree or getting your milk straight out of a cow, most of the food you eat is processed — it's the ultra-processed foods that make the list to strike from your diet. “Minimally processed foods like bagged greens, diced vegetables and nuts offer convenience,” Allen says. “And canned tomatoes and frozen fruit and vegetables are an excellent way to enjoy produce processed at peak quality and freshness."

But many ready-to-eat, processed foods like cake mixes, snack chips, ketchup, sweetened yogurt and “meat lovers” frozen pizzas add food coloring, sodium, preservatives and other hard-to-pronounce additives in order to make consumers happy. And that's not good for you.

Many processed foods are void of fiber and nutrients like potassium or magnesium, and they tend to be calorically dense, with a lot of fat and salt, says Joseph Gonzales, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic.

"And some of the preservatives, like nitrates, may be harmful in high amounts, perhaps leading to premature aging of cells in the body,” Loepfe says.

Bottom line: Make label-reading a habit. Better yet, cook at home.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information.