With summer upon us, we tend to hear a great deal about healthy eating and getting in tip-top shape. There is no shortage of diets, drinks and pills being marketed, all promising slim waistlines for the summer season. But the truth is – healthy eating isn’t limited to a particular time of year. It’s a lifestyle and one that is incredibly important as we age.
While proper nutrition can positively impact your energy level and mood, it can also address specific diseases and injuries that seniors often face. For example, research conducted at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research shows that seniors who consume higher levels of dietary protein are less likely to suffer hip fractures than seniors whose dietary protein intake is less. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, nuts and legumes.
Since Vitamin D deficiency appears to increase the risk for fractures in seniors, make sure your diet includes sources of vitamin D. Good sources of vitamin D include dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt or fortified juice and if necessary include vitamin D supplements; talk to your primary care physician about vitamin D supplementation.
We also know that seniors are at higher risk for developing diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, especially if they struggle with their weight. Nearly 90 percent of diabetics are overweight and studies have shown that weight loss is an essential element in controlling blood glucose levels. A well-balanced diet that is low in fat is an important step in preventing and controlling diabetes and heart disease. It is also important in controlling cholesterol levels – a challenge for many seniors. Increasing fiber in your diet can also be beneficial in controlling blood glucose. Other fiber benefits include bowel regularity and decreasing the bad cholesterol in your blood, hence, decreasing your risk for heart disease. Examples of high fiber foods include fresh fruits instead of juice, vegetables, salads, and whole grains. Staying active and incorporating exercise into your lifestyle also helps maintain good blood glucose; bowel regularity, promotes weight loss as well as maintaining a healthy heart. It is recommended that drinking at least 6-8 cups of water (with other beverages) daily to prevent dehydration and promote bowel regularity.
Lastly, as we age, cooking nutritious meals can be a daunting task. While canned (especially soups) and pre-packaged foods may simplify the process, some are also loaded with sodium (salt). Try to keep your sodium intakes to less than 2300mg per day (1 teaspoon/day). Make it a priority to buy fresh produce, fresh or frozen vegetables and if you do use canned goods, go with the lower sodium versions. Make it a consistent routine to read labels. Cook in larger batches and freeze leftovers for nights when cooking is too much. You will be glad when there’s a healthy and easy option in the freezer.
The bottom line is proper nutrition can be a powerful prevention tool for health problems in seniors, as well as the key to being energized and productive for years to come.