For those over the age of 65, nutrition is a critical component of aging well and maintaining independence. Numerous studies have shown that many diseases and health conditions that affect seniors can be linked to a poor diet. But what might be an adequate diet for a 20 or 30 year old, may not be appropriate for someone who is 70. Read on to understand how nutritional needs evolve and change over time.
Understand the Risks of a Poor Diet
Proper diet and health and longevity are closely aligned at all ages, but even more so after the age of 65. Consuming a diet that is high in fat and/or low in nutrients and fiber is responsible for a number of potentially life-altering conditions that can impact energy level, mobility and one’s ability to live independently. Likewise, excess weight can lead to increased risk of injuries and health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and colon, pancreas and prostate cancer. A poor diet can also contribute to a variety of degenerative conditions, such as Osteoporosis.
Evolve your Diet with Age
For most people, metabolism slows over time, meaning that the body requires fewer calories to function. Unfortunately, this means that it becomes easier than ever to gain weight, which can contribute to a number of potentially dangerous health conditions. In addition, as the body ages, it often becomes less efficient at absorbing key nutrients. Some older adults also struggle with a reduced ability to taste foods, reduced appetite or difficulty chewing or digesting certain foods. By being very selective about food choices, seniors can aim to maximize the nutritional value of the foods they consume. Here are some key nutrients for seniors:
- Calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones, but without enough of it the body will actually take it from the bones. The resulting bone loss can lead to fractures and brittle bones. Good sources of calcium are low-fat milk and dairy products, kale, broccoli and juices that are fortified with calcium.
- Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and may also boost immunity and protect against some chronic diseases such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Sunlight is an excellent source of Vitamin D. Tuna, salmon and eggs are also good sources of this nutrient.
- B-12 is important for maintaining healthy nerve function and for creating red blood cells. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are all good sources of Vitamin B-12, but older people often have trouble absorbing enough of this nutrient from food.
- Folate or Folic Acid can help prevent anemia. Good sources of folic acid are fruits and vegetables, as well as fortified cereals.
- Omega-3 are unsaturated fats that are thoughts to be beneficial for brain health, for slowing the progression of macular degeneration and for reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil are all good sources of Omega-3.
- Potassium is important for cell function and has been shown to reduce the risk of kidney stones and high blood pressure. Good sources of potassium are bananas, unpeeled potatoes, plums and prunes.
- Magnesium helps keep the heart healthy and the immune system and bones strong. Whole grains, seeds, beans and most fruit and vegetables are good sources of magnesium, however, age and also certain medications can reduce the body’s ability to absorb this nutrient.
Follow Tips for Healthy Nutrition
There is a lot of information available about diet and nutrition – in books and magazines, on television, online and from well-meaning friends – and not all of it is accurate. Be sure to talk with your doctor or a nutritionist so they can make recommendations that take into account your specific health history and health conditions. In general, when thinking about a healthy diet, consider the following:
- Start with the basics. Try to incorporate a lean protein (e.g. legumes or salmon), a nutrient-rich carbohydrate (e.g. sweet potatoes or brown rice) and a vegetable or fruit into each meal. Strive to consume five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Indulge only occasionally. Go ahead and enjoy a piece of chocolate cake every now and then, but avoid making it a daily habit. Those calories will take the place of another food that could provide more disease-fighting power.
- Choose foods based on the nutrients you most need. Aim for a varied, nutritionally-dense diet and be sure to include foods that are high in the nutrients you need most. As mentioned above, always seek guidance from your physician or nutritionist.
- Select healthy portions. Probably the most important tenet of maintaining a healthy weight is eating smaller portions. Pay attention to serving sizes and avoid going back for second helpings.
- Get plenty of fiber. Fiber prompts healthy digestion by helping foods move through the digestive tract. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all good sources of fiber.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to a number of health-related issues. Strive to consume eight glasses of water throughout the day.
Lighthouse Senior Living offers nutrition and lifestyle programs with a focus on longevity and healthy living. We are known for our excellent food. Our chefs create meals that are both tasty and healthy, and they coordinate with our Wellness Team to customize meals to meet unique dietary requirements. Contact us today to schedule a virtual tour of our communities in Ellicott City and Essex-Middle River.