Aging is inevitable, but you can age more healthfully, especially if you start now. While you can't control everything about the aging process (think genes, environmental factors, etc.), you do have control over lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, stress and sleep. And these play a bigger role than you think in warding off chronic diseases and increasing longevity. The earlier you start making changes, the better, because small changes every day add up for better or worse.
While your 30s may seem like a big decade, embrace it and take advantage of this time. The body is no longer growing, but now is the time to continue nourishing it so it can thrive in the coming years and you can feel just as good at 50 years old and beyond.
Here, we share the most important eating changes to make after you turn 30, according to experts and the latest research.
1. Fill up on fiber
Fiber does more than keep you regular. A 2019 meta-analysis in The Lancet found that eating more fiber reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. In addition, the research showed that for every eight grams of fiber consumed, the risk of chronic diseases fell by 5-27%. The most protection was seen when people ate 25-29 grams of fiber per day. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend that women aged 31-50 consume 25 grams of fiber per day and men aged 31-50 consume 31 grams of fiber per day, but most Americans only get 11-15 grams.
Fiber also lengthens telomeres. Telo-what? Let us explain. Telomeres are DNA-protein structures found at both ends of chromosomes. They protect our genome and fight off diseases. Telomeres naturally shorten with age, but stress, smoking, obesity, poor sleep and poor diet lead to shorter telomeres. To simplify, longer telomeres mean a longer life and shorter telomeres are associated with a shorter lifespan. Your 30s are a crucial time to lengthen those telomeres, and eating more fiber is one of the best ways to do it. A 2018 study found that every 10 gram increase of fiber per 1,000 calories would correspond to 5.4 fewer years of biologic aging. So load your plate up with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes because these high-fiber foods will give you life, literally.
Think about getting 8-10 grams of fiber per meal. One cup of cooked oatmeal for breakfast has four grams of fiber. Pair that with fruit, like raspberries (one cup has eight grams of fiber) or diced apples. Don't be scared of carbs at lunch and dinner. Make half your plate colorful vegetables and ¼ of your plate whole grains. Toss ½ cup of cooked farro on your salad for 6 grams of filling fiber. Not only will you lengthen your telomeres, you'll also stay full longer and prevent carb cravings later in the day. (Take a look at our high-fiber meal plans for more healthy, fiber-filled meal ideas.)
2. Incorporate more omega-3s
"Focus on getting more omega-3s in your diet," says Sarah Anzlovar, M.S., RD, LDN, owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition. "While it may seem premature, your 30s are the best time to think about putting in place healthy habits that help you age well. Omega-3s are linked to both short-term health benefits such as better mood, improved cognition, and reduced inflammation, as well as longer-term health benefits like reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and better brain health as you age. And if you're planning to start a family, omega-3s are incredibly important to a baby's brain development. The best source is fatty fish such as salmon or sardines, but you can also get them from plant-sources like walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds."
"Omega-3 fatty acids may also preserve telomeres," says Nicole Stefanow, M.S., RDN, registered dietitian in New York. "As telomeres get shorter our cells can't do their jobs properly causing the cells to age. Eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, can slow the pace of aging by preventing the shortening of telomeres."
Focus on food first to get omega-3s. Have salmon for dinner once a week. Sprinkle flax or chia seeds into oatmeal, yogurt or smoothies and snack on walnuts or pecans.
3. Stop fad dieting
If you spent your 20s dieting, there is no better time than now to stop. "Swap fad diets and eating trends for an enriching lifestyle," says Dr. Lisa Leslie-Williams, PharmD., Natural Health & Holistic Food Expert, and Founder of the Domestic Life Stylist. It might sound cliche, but hear us out. Fad diets lead to rapid weight loss, followed by gaining the weight back and then some. This is called yo-yo dieting or in the scientific world, "weight cycling."
"Weight cycling has long-term detrimental heart health effects including increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and depression," says Anzlovar, who helps women ditch diets in her virtual private practice. Overall, yo-yo dieting tends to lead to a higher weight. Research shows that up to 95% of people who diet to lose weight end up regaining what they've lost and up to two thirds end up at a higher weight than they started each time they diet. Yo-yo dieting and weight cycling can also lead to a slower metabolism."
"Pick a healthy eating lifestyle that will work for you and then stick to it," says Dr. Leslie-Williams. "Whatever dietary changes you make, adapt them, not just on weekends. Not just when your class reunion is coming up. Not just for the wedding, not for a milestone birthday, not just when it's convenient, but year-round for wellness that is long lasting way after your 30th birthday."
4. Cut back on booze
"While it's nice to kick back and unwind with a beverage socially, this pattern gets ingrained in our college-aged years and can have health implications down the road! If you're approaching your third decade and looking for better sleep, more energy, and an easy way to cut calories, reducing alcohol consumption might be the answer for you," says Caroline Thomason, a registered dietitian who helps women recover from yo-yo dieting.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend men consume no more than two drinks per day and women no more than one drink per day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. In addition to being a source of "empty" calories, in other words, containing calories but no beneficial nutrients, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and cancer. (Here's what happens in your body when you quit drinking.)
5. Limit processed meats
"Consuming processed meats such as bacon, sausage, hotdogs and bologna may increase your risk of developing cancer," says Christie Gagnon, RD, LD, registered dietitian at Hoorah to Health. "With colorectal cancer on the rise in young adults, I would caution people from eating too many of these foods in their diet."
Since the 1990s, the rate of colorectal cancer (cancers of the colon and rectum) has more than doubled in young adults under the age of 50, says the National Cancer Institute on their website. And more younger people are dying from the disease. Eating 50 grams of processed meat daily, the equivalent of one hot dog, is linked to a 16 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer, according to a report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund. Two alcoholic drinks per day, being overweight, eating more than 18 ounces of red meat per week and lack of physical activity also increase risk.
The good news is that eating three servings of whole grains daily can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%. This may be due to the way fiber positively affects the gut, giving good bacteria food to flourish and producing compounds that reduce inflammation and keep chronic diseases at bay.
6. Choose more calcium
Bone density is formed in our younger years, and by age 25-30, new bone formation is completed. Your 30s are the time to focus on preserving bone density to prevent loss, and getting enough calcium is the best way to do so. "Because we start to lose bone mass in our 30s, it is so important to be consuming high calcium foods such as yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, kale and almonds," says Gagnon. The recommendation for calcium from ages 31-50 is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day. Eight ounces of yogurt provides 415 mg of calcium, 1.5 ounces of cheese delivers 307 mg and if you don't eat dairy, reach for salmon, tofu, soybeans or fortified foods and drinks like oatmeal and non-dairy milks.
After the age of 50, bone density decreases substantially. In addition to getting enough calcium, lifting weights also helps preserve bone density as you age.
7. Start the day with breakfast
While intermittent fasting may work for some, the majority of people benefit from starting the day with a balanced breakfast. "Whether it's because they don't make the time, aren't used to eating in the morning (old habits from missing breakfast hours in college) or think it's better to save the calories for later, skipping breakfast is one of the most common things I see my younger clients doing," says Anzlovar. "But skipping breakfast often sets you up for sugar cravings and overeating later in the day. Prioritize protein, fiber-rich carbs, and healthy fats at breakfast to give you the energy you need for your day and keep your blood sugar stable until lunch time." Eating breakfast will also decrease snacking after dinner and lead to fewer swings in hunger, energy and mood. (Here are delicious, healthy breakfasts you can make in 15 minutes or less.)
8. Power your plate with plants
If vegetables were more of a side dish when you were growing up, it's time to make them the main dish. Think about filling most of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and adding protein and whole grains on the side. "I can't stress enough the importance of focusing on eating more plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, oils) and less animal products (meat and dairy)," says Gagnon. "A plant-based diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which will help decrease your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation and cancer."
This is exactly how people in the Blue Zones eat—the five regions of the world where people live the longest. Their diets consist of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and seafood with very little animal products and minimal alcohol. They also stay social, physically active and keep stress low.
Try swapping meat for beans a few times a week. "Beans are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that may help decrease inflammation, cancer risk and aging. Beans are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which can help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and stabilize blood sugars," says Gagnon. She also encourages eating more cruciferous vegetables like, "Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, collard greens and kale. They are low in calories (25 per serving), and rich in folate, vitamins C, E, and K and fiber. Glucosinolates give them their unique flavor and smell and may help prevent cancer from forming and/or spreading." (Try our tips for starting a plant-based diet.)
9. Work with your hormones, not against them
"Eat for your hormones!" says registered dietitian and certified aromatherapist, Amanda Liptak, RDN, CA. "Progesterone begins to decrease as early as your early 30s and one of the most magical benefits of this hormone is calming your nervous system, making it easier to cope with stress. So aim for nutrient-rich, mood-boosting foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B6. You can find them in salmon, whole eggs, walnuts and flax. Foods high in magnesium also support mood and help boost progesterone, so make sure to include pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens, black beans and lentils."
10. Exercise smarter, not harder
Last but not least, and not technically an eating change but just as important, focus on exercising smarter, not harder. Muscle mass decreases 3-8% per decade after age 30. So while your metabolism doesn't "break," it does slow because you lose muscle. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it burns calories even when you're sitting at a desk all day. The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn at rest.
Add strength training to your routine 2-4 times per week to build muscle. No, you will not get bulky. Instead, you will burn fat, get lean and boost your metabolism. If you've been trying to lose weight unsuccessfully, and are not strength training regularly, your 30s is the time to get started. Strength training helps people not only lose weight but also maintain weight loss.
"Create an exercise routine you enjoy," says Anzlovar. "Exercise offers so many benefits—from stress relief and mental health to cardiovascular benefits and feeling strong and confident in your body (independent of your body size!)."
Those who exercise also live longer and have reduced risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. "If you haven't found a type of exercise you like, experiment with different forms from studio classes to dancing or even walking. While it's never too late to start moving your body, the longer you go without creating an exercise habit, the harder it can be to start," Anzlovar says.
Finally, don't forget to eat enough protein to support muscle growth. Daily protein needs from ages 19-70 years old are 0.8-1 gram per kilogram of body weight, but depending on your goals, you may need more.