If you are what you eat…are you fast, cheap, and easy? Or are you high quality, like good wine and cheese, that gets better with age? Let’s hope it is the latter! Read on to make sure that is the case! Today we are addressing specific low-effort, high-impact ways to ensure your diet is high quality, just like you!
Most people are over-fed, but under-nourished. There are two basic strategies to ensure we get enough of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein to keep all body systems functioning, but not overeat. First, be purposeful with our food choices. Second, be aware of portion size. This is called “bang for the buck” nutrition.
To use these strategies, we must first determine what is “enough” nutrients for you at this time of your life? There are many resources that tell us the same thing - good nutrition includes a diet that is high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and good fats (nuts, avocados, and oily fish), and low in processed food, refined sugars, and added salts. But there’s not a lot of information out there on how these nutritional needs change with age. Nor is there much talk about how age-related changes impact the ability to maintain a healthy diet.
The significant factors that influence your nutritional needs include activity level, body composition, medications and age. While nutritional needs are influenced by all of these, age is the primary factor. As people age their activity level often decreases, their body composition changes to less muscle, and the probability of taking at least one medication increases. This results in a quadruple impact! As a result, this means that most older adults require just as much vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, but less calories to be healthy. Getting in all the good-for-you food without getting in excess calories can be tough but following the four guides below can help.
1. Variety is the spice of life! A diverse assortment of natural foods from across all food groups help fulfill the recommended, essential nutrients.
Fruits and vegetables - When was the last time you had a cumquat? Persimmon? Chayote?
Whole grains - Have you tried wild rice? Bulgar?
Lean proteins like fish and chicken are common, but have you had pheasant lately? Or deer or elk?
2. Eat a good blend of food as this will help you get your nutrition in and prevent blood sugar spikes.
For meals balance your plate with ½ veggies, ¼ whole grains, and then ¼ lean protein
A good snack is a small handful of nuts and dried fruit trail mix
3. Frequent small meals and healthy snacks can help manage hunger throughout the day. Portion size matters (Did you know an average blue berry muffin used to be 210 calories but today its 500!):
A portion of rice or pasta is only the size of a tennis ball
A serving of protein, such as a piece of chicken or a steak, is just the size of your palm
A true serving of a chocolate brownie is the size of a box of dental floss
4. Keep “treats” for special occasions. If you eat a “treat” every day, it’s no longer a “treat” - it is part of your regular diet!
Now consider how your body functions today compared to when you were 20, 30 or 40. Have you had any changes in your teeth and gums? Are you taking any medications now? How is your digestion? Have your senses of taste and smell changed? You may not notice it as much as other senses but consider how your vision and hearing may have changed. Your taste and smell have probably changed just as much. All these factors can impact your ability to take in and absorb needed nutrients. Consider the following tips to overcome these age-related changes and allow you to get the nutrition needed to keep the body and mind functioning at optimal levels.
Changes to teeth and gums? Increase nutritional intake by making smoothies with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables added. You may not believe it but throwing in a handful of spinach is almost imperceptible and adds a ton of vitamins and fiber.
Changes to sense of smell and taste? Use diverse seasonings like ginger, vinegar, lemon pepper, herbs, and spices. Take a moment to inhale your food and focus on the smell, savor a bit in your mouth, and focus on the flavors.
Changes with swallowing? Try more sauces and soups, increase drinking during a meal. Adding fresh lemon, lime, or cucumber to your water can help increase your hydration.
Medications? Listen to your body and recognize how you feel on a new medication. Know the side-effects. If your appetite changes or your vitamin levels drop, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Eating really good food can be fun, entertaining, and help your body and mind function at their best. As people age, they may just need to put a little more thought and effort into ensuring they are choosing the best fuel. And maybe pay a bit more attention to the changes that come with age so that small modifications can be made that ensure you age like a fine wine!