It’s often difficult to understand why some people pass away at age a young age and others live well into their nineties. The body works in mysterious ways but being proactive at any age is key. I like to share a quote with my patients that I read at a hospital while I was still in college: “Medicine is sick care. Nutrition is health care.” People of all ages should consider this quote while striving to increase their own health and quality of life and that of their loved ones.
As we age, our bones weaken due to decreased mobility and mineral loss. Increasing vitamin D and calcium intake to three times per day is appropriate to prevent osteoporosis or to keep the condition from worsening. Many foods, such as cereal, bread and juice, are fortified with both these important dietary components to promote bone health. The National Osteoporosis Foundation also recommends enhancing the calcium content of recipes by adding two to four tablespoons of nonfat powdered milk. Each tablespoon contains 50 mg of calcium, which can help you reach your total daily recommendation.
Make a point of avoiding added sugars and saturated fats and increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoid-rich foods. Flavonoids are plant compounds that have shown anti-inflammatory, antithrombogenic, antidiabetic, anticancer and neuroprotective benefits. Dark berries, cocoa, tea, soy, citrus fruits, red wine and nightshade vegetables are just a few examples of ingredients that are high in these phytonutrients. A primarily plant-based diet will help promote immune function.
“Rough up” your diet. Include a variety of high-fiber foods every day, such as raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains. These foods help cut down on constipation; provide the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients that you need for healthy aging; help maintain your weight; and reduce your risk of heart problems. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough fiber, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Our body composition changes with age. Aging is associated with an increase in total body fat, as well as a shift of that fat distribution. An older individual has higher total body fat and visceral fat (fat surrounding the organs). While routine physical activity may help lessen this shift, some degree of change is inevitable. To some extent, a small increase in overall fat may be healthy. Think of it this way—if you slip and fall, you will likely fare much better with adequate fat tissue to pad and protect your bones.
The National Institutes of Health lists taste disorder as one of the conditions that might interfere with a healthy diet for seniors. Taste disorders might cause people to lose their appetite. It may be tempting to use sugar or salt to make food more appealing, but the NIH recommends flavoring food with herbs and spices instead. Of course, as with all diet recommendations, ask your doctor for guidance about nutrition for seniors – particularly you.
It’s also important to visit your dentist for routine check-ups and cleaning. Speak with your doctor or dentist if you notice dental pain, sores in your mouth, or other oral health problems. To keep your teeth and mouth healthy, brush your teeth at least twice a day. If you have dentures, rinse them after meals, brush them daily, and soak them overnight.
As you learn more about incorporating good nutrition into your life, keep in mind that it's different than dieting. Implementing a nutrition plan is simply about making healthy food choices on a regular basis and being aware of how much you eat from certain food groups. You still get to enjoy a variety of delicious foods, and you shouldn't be left feeling hungry after a meal. When you combine good nutrition with being active, you'll have an excellent wellness plan in place.
As people age, it's common for their metabolism and digestive systems to slow down. They also tend to become a little less active. Those are some of the main reasons why it's so important to get exercise and eat foods that are healthy. Nutrition for seniors is such a vital topic because knowing what—and how much—to eat can help you maximize your well-being.
While one highly publicized study suggested that those who are moderately overweight have slightly longer lifespans, other studies, such as this one at Oxford University, associated being moderately overweight with a decreased lifespan. The overweight, or obese, are said to experience lifespans 10 years less than average according to the Oxford study.