Date: July 1st, 2007
Mom’s advice to eat your vegetables and get a well-rounded diet doesn’t get any less relevant as you get older. As you age, eating right continues to play a vital role in whether or not you will enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle. However, eating right for your age may mean making some adjustments in your eating habits.
The Alliance for Aging Research recently launched a campaign to educate older adults about the importance of maintaining good nutrition with age. The campaign is based on research that shows that our nutritional needs change as we age. Adapting to these changes and adjusting your eating habits are some of the simplest but most important ways you can contribute to your overall health.
Karen Collins, a registered dietician and nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research says that, "As people are living longer, the research is clear that the kind of lifestyle you have has a big impact on not only the quantity of life, but also the quality – making sure those years are as active and enjoyable as possible. Eating right is a significant part of that lifestyle, but it’s easy to overlook."
Unintentional weight loss a common problem
Often, as people become less active, they think they can get by with eating far less. While it’s true that most people need fewer calories as they age, some people still do not consume enough to keep up with their body’s energy demands and to maintain adequate nutrition. For those not eating enough, they often fail to get enough nutrients as well.
Unintentional weight loss and nutrient deficiencies can be caused by a variety of physical factors that can decrease appetite, or make it difficult to eat including medications, dental or oral problems, changes in hormones that make you feel full faster, illnesses, and even depression. Social factors--including social isolation and difficulty shopping for or preparing food--also may play a role.
As a result, some people may find that they lose weight without even trying. Unfortunately, most people accept this as a normal part of aging when in fact; it may be a sign of malnutrition.
The effects of poor nutrition may not be easy to spot at first but can develop into serious health problems--including loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, poor memory, and generally declining health. This is why it’s crucial to watch your weight and pay close attention to what you’re eating, especially if something in your life has changed that may have impacted your eating habits.
If you have unintentionally lost more than a few pounds, be sure to talk with your doctor about the weight loss before it turns into something more serious. Your doctor and other health professionals should be able to help you address the issues that are keeping you from eating properly.
What your body needs
Most people don’t realize that as we age, our bodies need more protein. This makes it especially important to incorporate lean, heart-healthy sources of protein into your diet. Peanut butter, low-fat cheese and yogurt, tofu, lean meats, egg whites, and high protein supplement drinks can help you get enough protein in your diet without raising your cholesterol.
Older Americans also need to pay special attention to their levels of calcium and B12. Fruits and vegetables, yogurts, and B-12 fortified breakfast cereals are tasty and nutritious choices. Change your mindset to meet changing needs
Eating healthfully may require an adjustment in your thinking and habits. Whether you’re trying to counteract unintentional weight loss by adding calories or looking to add more protein, Collins recommends using healthy snacks to fill gaps you’re having trouble filling at meals. “You can maintain your weight on snacks of 150 calories of jelly beans, or on food that’s satisfying your nutritional needs,” she said.
Talking to your doctor about an exercise plan that’s right for you will also help you maintain muscle and prevent body fat—a struggle that often gets harder with age. Keeping your muscles strong is key to keeping your body healthy and disability free.
While some people may struggle to get enough calories, others may need to find a healthy way to drop some extra pounds. Collins cautions that one approach may not work for everyone, and the important thing is to educate yourself on your changing needs and to talk with your doctor about any concerns you might have.
For more information about eating right for your age, visit the following Web sites: