As we age, what we put into our bodies becomes incredibly important. Our digestive systems change and we are forced to pay more attention to our diets. We need to make sure we are getting the vital nutrients our bodies need to keep us healthy and energized as we cross into our senior years. Here you will find everything you need to know to do just that.
STAYING STRONG: NUTRITION FOR YOUR BONES & MUSCLES
Unfortunately, seniors are prone to deficiencies in two critical nutrients that contribute to the health of our bones: Calcium & Vitamin D. This is for a few reasons. Decreased appetite can result in a smaller caloric intake which, in turn, can lead to an inadequate amount of calcium taken in. Even if you think you’re getting sufficient levels, the reduction in the efficiency of our kidneys can result in poor retention. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the RDA for calcium in seniors is 1,000mg-1,200mg per day.
As you may know, Vitamin D is produced in the body when we are exposed to the sun. Not only do many seniors see less sunshine due to more sedentary lifestyles but their skin also synthesizes less of it in their older age. We can increase our Vitamin D intake either through supplementation or by eating more foods that are good sources. Dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk all contain Vitamin D. If you are lactose intolerant, you can also find Vitamin D in foods such as tuna fish or eggs.
Protein should also be a part of your daily diet as it plays a significant role in the composition of our muscles as well as our skin. The current RDA for protein in adults is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram but research has shown that seniors ages 65 and over need even more than this. According to Mayo Clinic, 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram should be the target for healthy adults.
There are many sources of protein including meats, poultry, and seafood as well as beans and peas. When choosing your sources of protein, you should aim to choose leaner cuts or low-fat options. Not all fats are bad, and some are even good for us. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are two examples of these.
HAVING YOUR GRAINS AND KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE
Grain products can come in many forms. Whether it be bread, cereal, pasta or oatmeal, these are all sources of grains. Grains are important because they are an excellent source of both energy and fiber. It is, however, vital to make the distinction between whole grains and refined grains.
Refined grains are processed grains which have less nutritional value to us whereas whole grains consist of the entire kernel with the bran and germ still intact. Without the bran and germ, grains lose key nutrients and vitamins. Examples of refined grains are white rice, white bread, and white pasta.
Seniors should be targeting whole grain bread and pasta. Brown rice instead of white rice. Be sure to check labels because a brown colored bread does not necessarily mean it is whole wheat or made of whole grains. Whole grains should be one of the first things you see on the ingredient list.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING HYDRATED
Water may not be the most exciting beverage choice, but it is something we need to consume on a daily basis to ensure that we replace lost fluids and do not become dehydrated. You may not always feel thirsty when you need to replace fluids so it can be helpful to set a reminder of some sort to ensure that you are getting the necessary amount. The general rule of thumb tends to be to be to drink somewhere in the vicinity of eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day.
Though water is necessary, we can also consume beverages such as real fruit juice or unsweetened tea to keep us hydrated. Many fruits can also help to hydrate us because of their tendency to contain high levels of moisture.
LEAVE IT ON THE SHELF – THINGS TO AVOID
We’ve discussed a few things to look for that can enhance your health and keep you feeling your best but what about things to avoid? Earlier we mentioned polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as types of healthy fats that should be a part of our diets. Trans fats and saturated fats are different and should be very limited.
According to the American Heart Association, Trans fats can raise your “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL’s) while simultaneously lowering our “good” cholesterol levels (HDL’s).
Some examples of foods that commonly contain trans fats are:
- Fried foods
- Ice cream
- Cookies and Cakes
Added sugars and salts are two things that we also want to avoid. We see added sugars in many forms including high fructose corn syrup, raw sugars, dextrose, and glucose. Consuming around 1,500mg of salt daily is safe but consuming larger quantities can lead to increased blood pressure which can create a host of other issues including heart disease.
TAKE YOUR VITAMINS!
It is always preferable to get your full compliment of vitamins through the foods you consume, but it is not always easy to do. You may not need a complete multivitamin supplement, but you could be falling short of some of the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs, so it is wise to know how much you are giving it on a daily basis. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), here are a few basic guidelines to follow:
- Vitamin B6: 1.7 mg a day for men, 1.5 mg a day for women
- Vitamin B12: 2.4 mcg per day
- Folate: 400 mcg each day
REMEMBER – PROPER NUTRITION IS A LIFESTYLE, NOT A HOBBY
It is not enough to only focus on your diet once in a while; it is something you need to do every day. Make lists, create healthy habits and change the way you feel for the better. Your body will thank you!