Make calories count. As you age, you need fewer calories. Your metabolism slows, your gut function is less efficient, and you might be less active. The majority of your food should be packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, yet low in calories.
It’s no surprise that our nutrition needs change throughout the years. During childhood and adolescence, nutrition plays a vital role in growth and healthy bone and teeth development, and it sets the stage for health in later years. In our 20s and 30s, we might pay little attention to our diet because we are at our peak metabolism and consumed by our hectic schedules.
Once we reach our 40s and 50s, we discover that losing weight isn’t as easy as it once was, and we begin to adjust our diets in response to health concerns such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. As we approach our later years, our nutrition needs change yet again, and it can become difficult to meet even our basic nutrition needs.
Following are some guidelines to help you continue to eat well as you age.
Make calories count. As you age, you need fewer calories. Your metabolism slows, your gut function is less efficient, and you might be less active. The majority of your food should be packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, yet low in calories. Eat fewer foods with little nutritional value, such as desserts, sugary beverages and alcohol.
Eat a wide variety of foods. This can be especially difficult if you are cooking for just one or two, or if most of your meals are eaten at restaurants. A variety of foods ensures you receive all of the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. Include more dark green and orange vegetables. Vary your proteins to include more fish and beans. Try to include a protein and fruit or vegetable in every meal.
Drink water. As you age, your kidneys become less efficient and your thirst sensation decreases. Common medications can cause fluid loss. Try to drink at least six full glasses of water daily.
Be active. Aim to be physically active for at least 30 minutes daily. This can be broken into 10-minute segments, if needed. Muscle mass depletes each decade after age 30. Muscle helps us remain independent longer, helps with recovery time after illnesses and helps prevent falls. Work in some resistance exercises, such as light weight-lifting, and some balance exercises, such as yoga.
Following are some special nutrition concerns for older adults.
Vitamin D and calcium. In older adults, bones lose mineral content more rapidly. Try to get three servings of dairy in daily, and look for calcium- and vitamin D-fortified foods. In addition, just 10 minutes of sunshine several times a week can help your body produce the vitamin D you need. Check with your physician if you think you may need a supplement to help meet these needs.
B12. Your body won’t absorb vitamin B12 as well when you get older, so you need to choose foods fortified with B12. Cereals are a good option. You should ask your physician about B12 supplements.
Fiber. Increased fiber is needed to help with regular bowel function. Fiber also helps with weight control and lowering your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Food sources of fiber include whole-grain breads and cereals; fruits; vegetables; and beans.
Potassium. Increased dietary potassium, along with reduced sodium intake, may lower your risk of high blood pressure. Good food sources of potassium include many fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products.
Decreased appetite. Loss of appetite or decreased intake is common in older adults. This may be due to increased difficulty chewing or swallowing, pain, medication side effects, loneliness, depression, or inability to shop and prepare food as easily. See your health care provider for help with these issues. Also, check out community resources, such as congregate meal sites or meal delivery services.
Medication interactions. You may see multiple health care providers who prescribe medications. Or, you might attempt to supplement your diet with over–the –counter vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements. Medications can adversely interact with each other or with various over-the-counter products. Be sure to let every health care provider and pharmacist know all of the medications you are taking, as well as all vitamins, minerals, herbal or other supplements.