Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important throughout your lifespan, but it becomes even more vital as aging occurs. Healthy weight maintenance and increased nutrient intake are key factors in the process of healthy aging.
A healthy weight helps prevent potential muscle loss and bone strength that comes with growing older. Increased nutrient intake helps to mitigate the effects of potential diseases and keeps the body's physiological processes running smoothly.
Two important things to focus on when cooking or choosing what to eat are quality and quantity. The absorption of nutrients becomes less efficient with aging, so itis important to include lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. Rather than choosing large meals with little to no nutritious value (empty calories), try consuming larger portions ofnutrient-dense foods. The MyPlate guide myplate.gov is a great tool for healthy eating and applies to every age group. Each plate should behalf-filled with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter-filled with whole grains or starchy vegetables, and a quarter-filled with a lean protein source. This will ensure optimal nutrient and calorie intake at each meal.
As older age approaches, it is crucial to consume adequate amounts of the following nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, fiber, potassium, and healthy fats. Calcium and vitamin D play an essential role in maintaining bone health. Dairy products are great sources of calcium and are often fortified with vitamin D as well. Vitamin B12 has many functions in the body, but it is essential in preventing anemia. Including lean meat and fish will ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12. Fiber helps maintain digestive regularity and can be found in whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables, along with beans, are also good sources of potassium which helps to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Healthy fats, also known as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, reduce the risk of heart disease and are found in nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable oils, and fish.
Healthy weight maintenance can be difficult in the older population because the physiologic process of aging can diminish a person's appetite. Energy needs decrease with aging, meaning fewer calories are required for the body to function. Furthermore, other factors such as chronic diseases, medications, poor dentition, and less physical activity can also lead to low appetite among the older population.
While many barriers exist to ensuring appropriate energy and nutrient intake, there are ways that these barriers can be combatted to ensure a healthy aging process.
One way to stimulate appetite is to increase physical activity. Since physical activity burns calories, the body will naturally need more to function, which will help with feeling hungrier. Physical activity does not have to be strenuous; it can be as simple as a 30-minute brisk walk or working on chores around the house. Incorporating some physical activity is a helpful, easy way to stimulate appetite and subsequently increase energy and nutrient intake.
If appetite is low because it is difficult to chew or swallow, focus on incorporating soft foods into the diet that are still nutrient-dense. This can be difficult with vegetables due to their raw texture, so the cooking process becomes important in nutrient consumption when eating a softer diet. Raw vegetables can be roasted, boiled, steamed, or blended into smoothies. Consuming lean proteins can also be difficult with poor dental health, so incorporating dairy products helps maintain lean protein intake. Some examples include Greek yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese.
One of the most important things to remember as you age is to stay alert to hunger cues. If you find yourself hungrier in the morning, it is perfectly fine to have a heavy breakfast and lighter meals throughout the day.
Consuming adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is key to a healthy aging process.