The nutrients found in foods help us grow, repair and maintain a healthy body. As we age, our nutrient needs may change.
Focus on whole, nutrient-rich foods. A nutrient-dense eating pattern includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Limit sweets and junk food. Stay hydrated by drinking water or non-sweetened beverages.
Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables
In a world where salty snacks and processed foods are often the go-to options, fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult to get into one’s diet. But these vital foods contain a wealth of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folic acid, zinc, magnesium, and iron.
Getting a variety of fruit and veggies is important to help support overall health as we age. In addition to the obvious (eat oranges, blueberries, and apples), consider adding darker colored fruits like apricots, blackberries, red pears and purple grapes to your diet as well as naturally sweet vegetables such as corn, carrots, squash, beets and yams.
Try to eat in-season and choose the freshest possible option. Limit the amount of fruit juice and instead eat whole pieces of fruit as they contain more nutrients than pureed fruits. Also, be sure to include plenty of dark green, red and orange vegetables in your diet along with beans and peas and low-fat dairy products. The Learning Portfolio at the end of each chapter condenses all aspects of nutrition information for students to use as a study guide.
Eat Lean Meats and Proteins
The body’s need for protein—the building block of cells—increases as we age. Protein also provides many other nutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Choose lean meats (chicken, pork, fish) and low-fat dairy products. Avoid processed meats, which tend to be higher in saturated fat.
Lean fish, such as salmon and trout, provide protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Pork loin—the old ad campaign’s slogan “the other white meat”—is high in protein and potassium, and low in sodium and fat. A 3-ounce serving of beef or pork offers a full day’s supply of the protein amino acid leucine, which may help build muscle and prevent loss of bone density.
Beans, peas and lentils are excellent plant-based sources of protein that are high in fiber, antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds. These foods also provide iron, zinc and vitamin B6. A 1-ounce serving of these foods counts toward your daily protein requirements.
Eat Whole Grains
Eating whole grains provides fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and may help manage weight. They are also a good source of complex carbohydrates that provide energy without spiking blood sugar levels.
Whole grains are high in fiber and phytochemicals, which may reduce the risk of some diseases. They also are a source of iron, folate and zinc. People who eat a variety of whole grains may be less likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease, according to research published in the journal Nutrients.
Look for the “whole grain” stamp on food labels or choose foods made with whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, rye and triticale. Choose these over foods labeled as enriched or refined. Regularly eating a diet rich in whole grains may help prevent pellagra and beriberi, which were once common due to lack of vitamin Bs found in processed foods. Folate is also important for pregnant women, as it can help prevent neural tube defects. (This is when a baby’s brain and spinal cord develop incorrectly at birth.) Folate can be found in whole grains and fortified breakfast cereals.
Eat Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy foods provide calcium, potassium and vitamin D that are important for bone health. They can also supply some protein. However, many Americans eat too much saturated fat from full-fat dairy foods (such as cheese), which increases their risk for heart disease. It is recommended to choose low-fat or fat-free options from the dairy group, and from certain fortified products like soy beverages and yogurt.
While the ‘fat-free’ fad of the 1980s seems to have gone the way of leg warmers, there are still a number of misconceptions about the role of fat in healthy eating. For example, some people believe that low-fat milk and yogurt are less healthful than whole milk and ice cream because they contain fewer saturated fats. In reality, the amount of saturated fat in full-fat and reduced-fat dairy foods is similar. It is also essential to enjoy all dairy foods in moderation, as they are a source of protein and other nutrients that contribute to healthy aging. Moreover, choosing low-fat dairy products can help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
As people age, they may start to notice a change in their body. This is when some people may become motivated to make dietary changes to promote healthy aging.
Nutrients that a person needs in large amounts are called macronutrients and include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The energy in these nutrients comes from chemical bonds and is converted into cellular energy to allow our bodies to function. This cellular energy is measured in units called calories, which can be found on food labels.
Water is a good source of fluids for the body, as are unsweetened tea and coffee (if not combined with alcohol or caffeinated drinks). It is important to stay hydrated throughout the day, especially as aging interferes with the ability to sense thirst. Drinking six 8-ounce glasses of water each day is a good way to stay well hydrated. Try adding slices of lemon, cucumber or strawberry to your water for a refreshing flavor.