The Secret to Eating Healthy As You Age
Many people don’t know that your eating habits are in need of constant evolution even into your 60s, 70s and beyond. But our bodies change, and when they do, nutritional needs change with them. By clicking on this article you’re ahead of the game already! Read on as we share our most valuable secrets for maintaining a healthy diet as you age.
Prevent Illness With Good Nutrition
A proper diet doesn’t just benefit growing children and young adults; it also helps older adults. Children and young adults rely on good nutrition to grow strong bones, muscles, and joints. And for older adults it becomes about holding onto the strength they developed while eating healthy in their youth.
According to the Mayo Clinic, malnutrition can result in the following:
- A weakened immune system
- Poor wound healing
- Muscle weakness
- Decrease bone mass
And since older adults are more prone to chronic diseases and accidents like falls or fractures, the effects of malnutrition are magnified.
Choosing the Right Diet
With so much information out there, what’s the best way to figure out what’s right for you? The good news is, you’ve already taken the first step. There are lots of tools to help you come up with a plan that works for your lifestyle, preferences, and budget.
Following the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans
In 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its 2020-2025 recommendation of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They outline food plans for every age group including those for older adults. The most recent set of guidelines recommends the following daily intake:
- Fruits: 1 ½ to 2 cups
- Vegetables: 2 to 3 ½ cups
- Grains: 5 to 9 ounces
- Protein: 5 to 6½ ounces
- Dairy: 3 cups
- Oils: 22 to 34 grams
This food plan is known as the USDA Food Patterns diet and is designed to provide seniors with a balanced diet that assists in maintaining a healthy weight, providing good nutrition for muscles, joints, and organs in the body, and protecting against heart disease, diabetes, and blood pressure issues.
Utilizing the USDA’s MyPlate Program
Another tool from the USDA is the MyPlate program. The above guidelines only present a range of food patterns, and everyone’s body and eating habits are different. So, the MyPlate program is designed to give people a set of personalized tools to determine what areas of their diets could use improvement. Simply take a short quiz, input some basic health information, and MyPlate will recommend a personalized set of guidelines for you.
The DASH Eating Plan for Preventing Hypertension
If hypertension is a concern, which it is for many older adults, there is another dietary plan released jointly by the USDA and HHS: the DASH Eating Plan.
DASH is designed for seniors with hypertension issues and stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH Eating Plan is laid out in detail by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, but its primary focus is on limiting saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium while focusing on foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.
Adjust to How Your Body Changes
As you age, your metabolism and digestive trends are going to change. Older adults, especially those with physical ailments that make active lifestyles difficult, will notice a slowing metabolism. When you were younger, your active body craved more nutrients to sustain your activity and help build muscles, but this decreases as we age.
The amount of food you ate to sustain your body in your earlier years is not the same amount needed now. The average female over the age of 50 who is moderately active needs only 1,800 calories a day. The average male in the same age and activity group needs roughly 2,200 calories a day. But it’s not just about adjusting caloric intake.
Don’t Slow Down on Protein
As we age, we naturally lose lean muscle mass, making the consumption of protein vital to counteract this loss. But the data from the USDA indicate that older adults tend to eat less protein as they age. This makes it all the more important to emphasize protein intake, with a focus on lean and plant-based proteins from seafood, dairy, beans, peas, lentils, and soy. This will slow down the loss of muscle mass and keep you feeling energized and ready to take on each new day.
Remember Vitamin B12
Our ability to absorb the essential vitamin B12 decreases with age and with certain medications. Sometimes, increasing or maintaining proper protein intake can solve this problem, but it may also be advisable to eat other foods fortified with B12. Many breakfast cereals and plant-based milks have added B12.
If you find it easier to take a supplement containing B12, that can work as well. Just keep in mind that anything else contained in that supplement needs to be accounted for when looking at your overall diet and health.
Drink More Fluids
One’s sense of taste can sometimes decrease with age. This, combined with sensitive issues such as loss of mobility or concerns about bladder control, contributes to older adults drinking fewer fluids as they age, resulting in up to two fewer cups of water per day.
It’s important to ensure that you stay hydrated in your older years. This can be accomplished with regularly drinking water, but you can also keep your fluid intake high with unsweetened drinks, low or nonfat dairy, soups, and the water contained in fruits and vegetables.
Keep your body and mind in shape through your diet.
Eating well is an important factor in aging gracefully. The nutrients you get from your daily diet help power your muscles and your brain, sustain your bone structure, maintain joint health, and keep your weight in check.
Armed with the tools above, you’ll be able to move forward confidently planning for a diet that keeps you feeling stronger and ready to maintain an active physical lifestyle during your golden years.