3 Steps to Better Nutrition in Later LifeDr. Jim Collins
While good nutrition is important at every age, it becomes even more important as we age. Healthy eating isn’t just about keeping our bodies in good shape. It can greatly influence our thoughts, emotions, and social lives. Nutritional wellness is not about dieting or sacrificing your favorite foods or beverages. It’s more about enjoying great food that is fresh and flavorful, packed with important nutrients, and enjoyed with those you love.
Why You Should Care about Nutrition in Later Life
If you’re already in your 50s, 60s or 70s, and you have no major health problems, shouldn’t you eat or drink anything you want to? What could cause illness or death now? This is the wrong way of thinking about nutrition because as we age, we become particularly susceptible to age-related illnesses like heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
What we eat and drink can help to prevent health problems and well as promote them. The good news is it’s never too late to change unhealthy dietary habits into healthy eating that will boost energy, improve mental sharpness, and increase resistance to various illnesses.
3 Steps to Nutritional Wellness
Create a Healthy “Later-Life” Diet
Cheeseburgers, fries and tacos are great when we are much younger and active. We can burn a lot of those calories away and not gain weight. This isn’t so easy later in life and that’s why it’s a good idea to create your own special diet.
A later-life diet should include adding more whole foods while minimizing processed foods. Whole foods are those that are as close to their natural form as possible. For instance, fresh fruit is healthier than canned fruit. Lots of fresh vegetables are a necessary component to this diet.
Calcium, good fat, protein, fiber and some carbs are important for good nutrition later in life. We run a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and breaking or fracturing bones as we age. So, make sure to add foods like broccoli, almonds, milk, cheese and kale to your late-life diet.
Since we are also at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease later in life, be sure to avoid bad proteins and go for high-quality proteins including fish, beans, nuts, eggs and peas. Fiber also lowers our risk for heart disease and should be a daily part of this diet. In terms of carbs, go for whole grains over processed white flour.
Learn to Cope with Changes that Affect Your Diet
There is no shortage of age-related changes that affect quality of life as well as one’s dietary options and preferences. Changes will take place and adjustments will need to be made. Understanding these changes will help your nutritional needs later in life.
As we age, and especially after 40, our metabolism slows down and many people will start to become less physically active. Healthy eating is vital and can help to prevent weight gain or obesity later in life.
We also experience a slow decline in our senses, which are important in the enjoyment of eating. We see and smell what we eat before we taste it. As we age, the first taste-related loss is to salty and bitter tasting foods. So, what do a lot of people do? They add lots of salt which is unhealthy in many ways. Instead of piling on the salt, use herbs, spices and healthy oils, like olive oil to add flavor to your food.
Older people are the main consumer of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications when compared to younger and middle-aged adults. Unfortunately, many prescription medications come with side effects that negatively impact our ability to taste. This is one of the leading causes of weight loss among seniors.
Many people will also experience digestive issues as they get older. In general, the digestive system slows down with age. Less saliva and stomach acid is produced making absorption of nutrients more difficult. Taking fiber can speed up digestion.
Be Aware of Lifestyle Changes that May Interfere with Your Diet
For some, age brings many losses including the loss of independence, employment, friends and family and a spouse or significant other. While it’s natural to experience sadness or depression, these can affect your nutritional status. Loneliness can trigger over- or under-eating. It may be easier to get fast food instead of healthier home-cooked options.
Finances can also affect nutrition in major ways. Living on limited income or a tight budget may not be conducive to purchasing fresh whole foods. It might be easier to buy cheaper processed foods, which sometimes are more expensive than fresh foods.
The good news is there are ways to eat healthy on a budget. Eating out less, sticking to your shopping list, and buying in bulk are some simple solutions. Finding local farmer’s markets and cooking once or twice a week and eating multiple times can help save money as well.
Final Thoughts on Nutrition and Aging
We’re all aging and with each passing year there will be challenges impacting various aspects of our lives. Nutritional wellness is an area of great importance because as we age, we become more susceptible to health conditions that may interfere with our quality of life. Instead of dieting and sacrificing, all that may be needed is some attention, planning, and adjusting. Good nutrition can be a life-long goal.