How Nutritional Needs Change With Age

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Nutrition plays an essential role in living our best life. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of how important a healthy diet is. So even if we don’t always eat well, we know we should. From disease prevention to healthier skin, nails, and hair, the benefits of eating right are numerous.

What seniors might not know is how much nutritional needs change with age. The body absorbs and processes nutrients differently, which alters what and how much you should eat in a day.

National Nutrition Month is celebrated annually in March. To help raise awareness, we are sharing a few tips to help seniors like you maintain a healthy diet.

Nutrition and the Older Adult

  • Consider it a lifestyle, not a diet

The term diet triggers such negative emotions. The idea of going on another diet during retirement likely isn’t very appealing. Instead, think in terms of gradually adopting a healthier lifestyle. You’ll look and feel better and have more energy and confidence to enjoy your retirement.

The key is to find a lifestyle plan you can sustain. One to consider is that followed by people who live in five regions around the world known as “Blue Zones.”

People in Blue Zones enjoy the longest, healthiest lives. In these areas, healthy lifestyles are the norm. Residents eat fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein. Most consume at least 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day and limit how much red meat they eat.

  • Make omega-3 fatty acids a priority

Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to better heart and brain health. They play a role in regulating blood clotting and controlling inflammation. Some research shows they might also help control autoimmune diseases and protect against cancer.

It’s best to work foods high in omega-3 fatty acids into your diet at least twice a week. They can be found in leafy greens, flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, lake trout, tuna, and mackerel. If these aren’t foods you enjoy, a supplement might be necessary. Talk with your family doctor for advice on how much to take.

  • Choose foods and beverages with flavanols

Eating foods that contain flavanols is another best practice learned from the Blue Zones lifestyle. These plant-based antioxidants have been shown to protect brain and heart health. Flavanols might also be beneficial for helping people manage asthma and diabetes.

If you aren’t familiar with flavanols, they are found in tea, vegetables, legumes, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, grapes, apples, and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. They are also in cocoa, dark chocolate, and red wine.

  • Limit sodium consumption

Salt and sodium can also impact how well you age. Consuming too much puts you at increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. That’s especially concerning as seniors are already at higher risk for these conditions. Instead of reaching for salt or other high-sodium seasonings when you are cooking or grilling, experiment with herbs and spices to enhance flavor.

For example, rosemary is a good addition to fish, pork, chicken, and potatoes. Basil perks up tomato-based dishes and soups. Chives, dill, and sage can enhance the flavor of root vegetables and dips.

  • Monitor vitamin D levels

Older adults, especially those who reside in northern climates, experience vitamin D deficiencies in greater numbers than younger people. A lack of exposure to sunlight and difficulty absorbing nutrients are often the cause.

In recent years, researchers have identified just how important vitamin D is to successful aging. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to health problems, including muscle pain, fatigue, cancer, and heart disease. Older adults who are deficient in this essential vitamin are more likely to develop osteoporosis and experience bone fractures.

Talk to your primary care doctor to see if you might need a blood test to screen for vitamin D deficiency.

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