Eat Smart - Live Strong

It's no surprise that our nutrition needs change over the years. Throughout childhood and adolescence, nutrition plays a vital role in growth, healthy bone and teeth development, and sets the stage for health in later years. In our twenties and thirties, we often pay little attention to our diet as we are at our peak metabolism and are consumed by our hectic schedules.

Once we reach our forties and fifties, we discover that losing weight isn't as easy as it once was and we begin to adjust our diets in response to health concerns such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. As we approach our later years, our nutrition needs change yet again and it can become difficult to meet even our basic nutrition needs.

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Here are some guidelines to help you continue to eat well as you age.

1. Make calories count. As we age, we need fewer calories. Our metabolisms slow, our gut function is less efficient, and we are less active. The majority of your food should be packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber yet low in calories. Eat fewer foods with little nutritional value such as desserts, sugary beverages and alcohol.

2. Eat a wide variety of foods. This can be especially difficult if you are cooking for just one or two or if most of your meals are eaten at restaurants. A variety of foods ensures that you are getting all the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. Include more dark green and orange vegetables. Vary your proteins to include more fish and beans. Try to include a protein and fruit or vegetable every meal.

3. Drink water. As we age, our kidneys become less efficient and our thirst sensation decreases. Common medications can cause fluid loss. Try to drink at least 6 full glasses of water daily.

4. Be active. Your goal should be to be physically active for at least 30 minutes daily. This can be broken into 10 minute segments, if needed. Our muscle mass depletes each decade after age 30. Muscle helps us remain independent longer, helps with recovery time after illnesses, and helps prevent falls. Work in some resistance exercises, like light weight lifting and some balance exercises, like yoga.

There are some special nutrition concerns for older adults:

Vitamin D and calcium. The requirements for both vitamin D and calcium are increased to help maintain bone health. As we age, our bones lose mineral content more rapidly. Try to get three servings of dairy in daily and look for calcium and vitamin D fortified foods. In addition, just 10 minutes of sunshine several times a week can help your body produce the vitamin D you need. Check with your physician if you think you may need a supplement to help meet these needs.

B12. Our bodies don't absorb vitamin B12 as well when we get older, so you need to choose foods fortified with B12, like cereals. You should ask your physician about B12 supplements.

Fiber. Increased fiber is needed to help with regular bowel function. Fiber can also help with weight control and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Food sources of fiber include whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables and beans.

Potassium. Increased dietary potassium, along with reduced sodium intake, may lower your risk of high blood pressure. Good food sources of potassium include many fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products.

Decreased appetite. Loss of appetite or decreased intake is common in older adults. This may be due to increased difficulty chewing or swallowing, pain, medication side effects, loneliness, depression, or inability to shop and prepare food as easily. See your health care provider for help with these issues. Check out community resources, such as congregate meal sites or meal delivery services, available in your area.

Medication interactions. You may be seeing multiple health care providers who prescribe medications or you may be attempting to supplement your diet with over -the -counter vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements. Many times, medications can adversely interact with each other or with various over-the-counter products. Be sure to let every health care provider and pharmacist know all of the medications you are taking, as well as all vitamins, minerals, herbal or other supplements.

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