It’s no surprise that the process of aging changes our bodies in a variety of ways, some of which we can see and others we cannot. However, what most people don’t know, is that as we age our dietary needs change as well. Because of this, many older adults accidentally put themselves at risk of becoming malnourished. Consuming a well-balanced diet helps strengthen the immune system, and ultimately allows our bodies to fight off diseases and illnesses. When we under-nourish our bodies, we can negatively affect its ability to protect us. Understanding what our bodies need can ultimately keep us out of the hospital, and live healthier, longer lives.
How do our Needs and Habits Change?
Calories and Appetite
It is not uncommon for older adults to eat less as they age. Most older adults might not be as physically active as they were in their younger years, which means they don’t necessarily need to eat as much as they once did. However, undereating can cause a wide variety of health problems.
Food sensitivities can also affect a person’s appetite, making it difficult to consume the appropriate amount of food each day. Some older adults might experience food sensitivities especially to foods like onions, peppers, dairy, and hot spices. If these are causing discomfort or pain after eating, they might need to be eliminated from your diet.
Even while monitoring your food and nutrition, medications can interfere with the nutrients your body is able to absorb. If you are taking a variety of medications, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about supplements you can add to your diet.
Unfortunately, as we age our immune systems can weaken, making our bodies more vulnerable to illness and disease. However, we can strengthen our immune systems by consuming different types of food and nutrients.
What’s Diet got to do with it?
As our dietary needs change, it’s especially important that we give our bodies the nutrients they need to keep us healthy and active. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has provided a list of nutrients especially important for older adults:
- Calcium and vitamin D work to keep our bones strong, which is especially important for older adults as their risk of falling increases. Both calcium and vitamin D can be found in dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale as well as milk, fish, and natural fruit juices.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B12 helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, while also preventing anemia. A deficiency in vitamin B12 is very common for older adults. While there are many supplements that contain this nutrient, vitamin B12 can also be found in lean meats, fish, and seafood.
- Fiber works to keep the digestive system regular and healthy and can also lower the risk of heart disease. Incorporating whole-grain cereal, bread, beans, and peas into your diet will provide your body with the fiber it needs to stay healthy.
- Potassium can help reduce blood pressure and water retention, which can decrease the risk of a stroke and kidney disease. You can find potassium in bananas, avocado, and spinach along with other fruits and vegetables.
Anti-Aging Foods that Sustain and Protect
Changing our diets to meet our needs as we age can decrease our risk of illness and disease, but it can also slow down different aspects of the aging process, from physical appearance to energy levels. These foods, according to Dr. Oz, are packed with powerful nutrients that will keep you feeling and looking young.
Youthful Skin and Hair
It’s no surprise that as we age, skin damage that has been accumulated over our lives becomes visible. Sun spots, wrinkles, and skin thinness is very common in older adults. However, there are certain foods that help promote healthy skin and hair.
- Watermelon protects our skin when its exposed to UV rays while outdoors
- Sunflower seeds promote collagen health, keeping our skin looking full and healthy
- Spinach is packed with vitamin C, which keeps our hair and nails looking shiny and smooth
- Pomegranate seeds fight free radicals which can damage our cells and proteins, while also building collagen which is the key to healthy skin
Healthy Joints and Anti-Inflammatory
Many older adults experience pain in their joints or develop arthritis, which can make daily tasks uncomfortable and painful. These foods work in different ways to minimize joint pain and inflammation.
- Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, tomatoes, and pineapple are very high in vitamin C and work to make collagen, which helps build your cartilage, tendons, and ligaments that hold your joints together
- Foods high in omega-3s can help curb the inflammation that causes pain in your joints. Omega3 rich foods include salmon and sardines
Free radicals in the body can eventually accumulate, increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Antioxidants work to defend your cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
- Dark Chocolate! Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure
- Blueberries contain some of the highest amount of antioxidants when compared to other fruits and vegetables. They can neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation, and help increase brain function
Tips for Choosing Healthy Foods
The key to living a long and healthy live is choosing healthy food habits. For many older adults who live in retirement communities or nursing homes, meals are usually prepared by staff and eaten in the dining room or restaurant. However, no matter who prepares your meals, you always have the choice to choose healthy options. The National Council on Aging has provided these tips for staying healthy while eating out.
- Choose nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats
- Read the nutrition label to look for added sugar and saturated fats
- Choose whole-grain over refined grains
- Drink water before going back for more food
- Choose healthy fats like avocado and nuts rather than oil and butter
Maplewood Senior Living knows how important diet is when it comes to healthy aging. That’s why our food service staff uses organic and local food whenever they can. By growing our own produce at our farm in Easton, CT and partnering with other local farms in our communities, we can ensure that our residents have healthy and nutrient-dense options available at each meal. You can learn more about our dining experience here, or see it for yourself and schedule a tour here.