Good nutrition plays an important role in how well you age. Eating a healthful diet helps keep your body strong and can help reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis. Studies even show a link between healthful eating and longevity.
Arthur Hayward, MD, a geriatrician and the clinical lead physician for elder care with Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute, said, “As we age, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing some key nutrients. Appetite and taste can suffer from loss of sense of smell and taste or from side effects of medications. Bad teeth can make some foods difficult to chew or digest. So choosing foods carefully is smart.”
Here are five tips to help you get the nutrition your body needs:
1. Avoid empty calories
Foods with empty calories may contain very few vitamins and minerals. “Convenience foods,” such as packaged snacks, chips and sodas, are common sources of empty calories. Avoid the “bad” carbs – foods that have white flour, refined sugar and white rice.
2. Choose nutrient-rich foods
Eat a variety of foods. The more you vary the foods you eat, the more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you get. For example:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables – Choose fresh, frozen or no-salt canned vegetables and fruits in their own juice or light syrup.
- Eat foods with protein – Protein is found in lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs and cheese, cooked beans, peanut butter and nuts and seeds.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D – Calcium and vitamin D are found in milk and milk products, including yogurt and cheese. They are also in green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens) and tofu.
- Include foods high in vitamin B12 – After 50, the body produces less gastric acid and absorbs less B12, which helps keep blood and nerves vital. B12 is found in milk, meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
- Eat high-fiber foods – This includes fruits, vegetables, cooked dried beans and whole grains.
3. Drink plenty of fluids
Drink plenty of fluids – enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Fiber and fluids help with constipation.
4. If your appetite is poor
Try eating smaller meals, several times a day, instead of one or two large meals. Eating while socializing with others may help your appetite. You might also ask about changing medicines. Medication can cause appetite or taste problems.
5. Eat soft foods
As we approach our senior years, chewing food is sometimes difficult. Choose low-sodium canned vegetables or cooked fruits and vegetables. These are often softer. Chop or shred meat, poultry or fish. Add sauce or gravy to the meat to help keep it moist.
In addition to eating a balanced diet, aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Ten-minute sessions several times a day on most days are fine. For questions or advice about a specific condition, talk with your physician.