Men and women are now living longer and enjoying a more active lifestyle later in life.
Research confirms that eating well can make a big impact on the quality of life for older adults, but it’s important to realize that, as we age, our nutritional needs change.
For adults over age 50, eating healthy has many benefits, including increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness, more energy and faster recovery time from health ailments. Healthy eating also assists in managing or reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, bone loss and Type 2 diabetes and can help in staying emotionally healthy.
As we age, we need fewer calories but more of certain nutrients. To ensure an adequate intake of what your body needs, make sure the foods you choose are packed with nutrients (vitamins, minerals and fiber) and do not contain a lot of empty calories (sugar and salt).
By eating a variety of foods from all food groups, you can be sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.
Specifically, older adults need more calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Calcium is important to maintain bone health by preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures. Older adults need 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium each day. Good sources of calcium are low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese, tofu, almonds, kale and canned sardines and salmon with the bones.
Vitamin D is needed to absorb the calcium. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun, but with age, our skin does not synthesize vitamin D as well as it used to.
Good food sources of vitamin D include low-fat dairy products, fatty fish (salmon, tuna and sardines), egg yolks and fortified foods. If you are between 50 and 70 years old, you need at least 600 IUs of vitamin D each day. If you are older than 70 years, you need at least 800 IUs a day.
Because the majority of us are deficient in vitamin D, it is usually recommended to take 1000 IUs in the summer and 2000 IUs in the winter.
After age 50, our stomach produces less gastric acid, which is needed to absorb vitamin B12. Meat, fish, poultry, fortified foods or a vitamin supplement can provide the B12 your body needs. Before starting to take a vitamin supplement, talk with your health care provider.
A balanced, healthy diet includes:
• One to two cups or more of vegetables and one to two pieces of fruit each day. Be sure to eat all your colors to get all the antioxidants these foods provide.
• More fiber: choose whole grain breads and pastas, oats, beans/legumes, barley, black rice, nuts, and seeds.
• Two to three servings of fish each week
• Healthier fats from oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and less saturated fat
• Adequate protein: try to eat a source of protein at all meals. Vary your sources of protein by eating more fish, beans/legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, low fat dairy products, poultry, tofu, or soy products and less red meat.
• Decrease your salt intake by choosing other spices to season your food; there are many lower sodium alternatives at the grocery store.
The consequences in not maintaining a healthy diet as we age are severe. Malnutrition is a concern for adults as we continue to age. This is caused by eating too little, not getting enough nutrients, and digestive problems. Factors that affect this are changes in taste and smell, medications, illness, death of a spouse, divorce, depression, and having to live on a limited budget. If any of these factors are affecting your eating, talk with your healthcare provider, family members or friends, or look into the various community resources available.
For more information on eating healthy as you age, visit www.choosemyplate.gov or www.eatright.org. You can also ask your health care provider to refer you to a registered dietitian, who can help you to navigate your nutrition needs at any age.