The aging process is inevitable. Many factors influence how we age, including but not limited to genetics, environment and lifestyle choices. Some of these factors we can control, while others we cannot.
To improve how we age, it is important to focus on what we can control. Lifestyle choices — including physical activity, eating patterns, and tobacco and alcohol use — influence the aging process and are factors within our control.
Participating in regular physical activity and focusing on a healthy eating pattern can reduce risk for chronic disease or help manage chronic disease, improve energy, help with weight control and much more. In this article, we will discuss the role of food and nutrition in aging and tips on how to make wise nutrition choices to maximize health.
Aging can be an enjoyable process if an individual chooses to have a healthy eating pattern throughout life and in older adulthood (65+ years). Though an individual’s health is determined by a lifetime of choices, current lifestyle choices still have an impact on health. Research has shown healthy eating patterns among older adults are associated with improved nutritional status, quality of life and mortality. A healthy eating pattern is defined as one that meets the daily recommendations for calories and nutrients.
While it may seem simple to meet the daily recommendation for calories and nutrients, this can be more difficult as an individual ages. The aging process causes physiological changes that may affect calorie and nutrient needs. Factors that affect calorie and nutrient needs of older adults include:
— Decrease in ability to taste.
— Chewing and swallowing difficulties.
— New diagnosis of medical condition requiring change in diet.
— New medication could interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Another factor that affects an older adult’s ability to meet their nutrient requirements is that the total number of calories an individual needs each day declines as an individual ages. Because older adults have a lower calorie requirement, they can struggle to follow an eating pattern that meets their nutrient requirements without exceeding calorie requirements. One way to plan an eating pattern that allows older adults to meet their nutrient needs without exceeding their calorie need is to eat more nutrient dense foods and eat less energy dense foods.
Nutrient dense foods are foods that are higher in nutrients and lower in calories. Examples of nutrient dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, low fat dairy, and lean protein sources. These foods are packed with nutrients and are great food choices for older adults to include in a healthy eating pattern.
Energy dense foods are higher in calories and lower in nutrients. Examples of energy dense foods include baked goods (cookies, cake, etc.), ice cream, sugar sweetened beverages, candy, chips, etc. Energy dense foods can be a part of a healthy eating pattern, but should be limited. Energy dense foods do not need to be labeled as bad foods or cut out of an individual’s diet. Instead, it is important to find a balance between nutrient dense and energy dense foods.
A great way to find balance between eating nutrient dense foods and energy dense foods is to plan nutrient dense meals and snacks. There are many ways to incorporate nutrient dense foods into meals and snacks. Here are three tips on how to do this:
— Plan to have a vegetable and fruit at every meal and snack. These foods are lower in calories and higher in nutrients. You can buy fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruits. When buying canned vegetables, choose the reduced sodium options. When buying canned fruits, choose the those canned in juice instead of syrup.
— Choose lean protein options. Lean protein options are lower in calories and saturated fat. Examples of lean proteins include chicken, fish and pork.
— Make half your grains whole grains. While whole grains aren’t necessarily lower in calories, they are higher in nutrients compared to refined grains. Fiber, in particular, is one nutrient whole grains are a great source of. Examples of great whole grains include whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, and more.
Older adulthood can be healthful, enjoyable and productive as individuals make lifestyle choices that help to prevent or successfully manage chronic diseases. Older adults can maximize their health by choosing to have a healthy eating pattern. A healthy eating pattern consists of nutrient dense meals and snacks each day. Consuming nutrient dense meals and snacks can reduce the total number of calories and increase the total number of nutrients consumed each day. As older adults follow this pattern, they can influence how they age and enjoy their years in older adulthood.