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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Should I adjust my eating as I age?

Healthy eating is important for everyone, but eating well can be even more challenging as we age. For seniors, the benefits of healthy eating include more energy, sharper mind, resistance to illness, faster recovering times, and better management of chronic health problems.

As we age, we experience several changes that can make healthy eating more important.

First, there is a slowing of the metabolism. The decrease may be 2 to 3 percent with each decade. However, the need of other nutrients, such as protein and vitamins, does not change. As a result, we have to really make our calories count so we get all of the essential nutrients.

A second change is loss of muscle. We can help stop some of this muscle loss by eating enough protein and staying physically active. Some people experience digestion problems as they age, often from medications or less physical activity. Ensuring that you get enough fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetable along with plenty of fluid will aid digestion.

Finally, a loss of the thirst sensation places seniors at increased risk for dehydration. It’s important to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.

Just as with younger ages, it’s important to get your calories by eating a variety of foods from all food groups — including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein and dairy — and limit solid fats and added sugars. Try these eating tips:

♦ Protein: Choose lean proteins such as eggs, lean meats, low-fat dairy, beans and legumes daily.

♦ Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables give you important vitamins and minerals that boost your immunity and sharpen the brain. Choose a variety of color-rich pickings such as berries, spinach, carrots and melon.

♦ Whole grains: Be smart with your carbs and choose whole grains over processed white flour for more vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you’re not sure, look for pasta, breads and cereals that list “whole” in the ingredient list. Stay away from sugars that add extra calories but little nutrition.

♦  Dairy: Maintaining bone health depends on taking in enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Good sources include milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, broccoli, almonds and kale.

♦ Fats: Reap the rewards of heart health from good fats such as olive oil, avocados, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and other monounsaturated fats.

Some tools that can be helpful to make healthy food choices include the Nutrition Facts Label and MyPyramid.

The Nutrition Facts tell you how many calories and which nutrients the food provides. It also tells you how much fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate and sugars a single serving of the food will give you. The Nutrition Facts can help you choose more healthy foods and compare the contents of different brands. When reading the Nutrition Facts, be sure to read the serving size and how many servings the package contains.

MyPlate illustrates the food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet. MyPlate provides the number and sizes of servings from each group.

Dr. Wright is a registered dietitian and an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health in the USF College of Public Health.

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