What is the Relationship Between Aging and a Healthy Diet?
From Erika Graziani, Lee Health’s Outpatient Nutrition Program Coordinator
In honor of National Nutrition Month, we thought it would be beneficial to start the month of March with tips on how to stay healthy as we age with a balanced, nutritional diet. One of the best ways we can maintain our overall health is by making sure our body has everything it needs to function properly and ward off chronic conditions and other health risks.
Our bodies’ nutritional needs change as we get older. It’s beneficial to practice healthy eating at any age, but it can be especially beneficial when we reach our later years. As we get older, our bodies change and become more susceptible to certain conditions. Eating a balanced and healthy diet can go a long way toward warding off chronic conditions, such as cancer and heart disease.
A healthy diet paired with regular exercise and routine follow-ups with your doctor and dietitian will increase the likelihood of living independently. This will enhance your ability to manage your health on your own and maintain a good quality of life as you age.
What Dietary Changes Happen As Our Bodies Age?
Older adults are at a greater risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, and health conditions like osteoporosis, as the body experiences changes in muscle and bone mass. Thankfully, some of these can be managed by eating nutrient-dense foods and maintaining an active lifestyle.
Use of multiple medications can also affect our diets. If you’re unsure about the best way to incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle because you’re on different medications with dietary restrictions, consult your dietitian and learn more at https://www.leehealth.org/leehealthsolutions.
What is the Best Diet for Older Adults?
Research shows that the Mediterranean diet, which includes fresh produce, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil, but less dairy and more fish than a traditional American diet, may have a positive impact on your health. Those who follow it have also been shown to have a significantly lower risk of a sudden cardiac event.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), several studies have shown that incorporating even a part of the Mediterranean diet into your daily routine, such as more fish or more leafy greens, can help improve your health. For example, one study of 182 older adults with frequent migraines found that a diet lower in vegetable oil and higher in fatty fish could reduce migraine headaches. Another study that followed almost 1,000 older adults over five years found that eating more green leafy vegetables was significantly associated with a slower cognitive decline.
These dietary changes can not only benefit older adults, but they can also benefit people of all ages. It’s never too early to start practicing healthy eating.
Do Older Adults Need More Protein and Vitamin B12?
Everyone should make sure they’re eating enough protein, especially older adults, who often don’t get enough of it. Eating enough protein helps prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. In addition to meats, poultry and eggs, seafood, dairy and fortified soy alternatives, beans, peas and lentils are also great sources of protein that can provide additional nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and fiber.
The ability to absorb vitamin B12 can also decrease as we age and can be affected by taking certain medicines. It’s important for older adults to talk with their doctor or dietitian about the use of dietary supplements to increase their vitamin B12 intake, which is needed to form red blood cells and aid in the development of brain and nerve cells.
Is It Important to Stay Hydrated?
The sensation of thirst can decline with age, but it’s still important to make sure you’re drinking enough water and staying hydrated. This not only prevents dehydration, but it also assists with proper digestion. Unsweetened fruit juices, low fat or fat-free milk or fortified soy beverages can also help meet fluid and nutrient requirements. Hydrating foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, and citrus fruits can also help in keeping you hydrated.
For more information on maintaining a healthy diet, please visit https://www.leehealth.org/leehealthsolutions.