On October 28, Hebrew SeniorLife will host EngAGE, a fundraising event that will cue the conversation on how we think about aging. We’re excited to welcome celebrity nutritionist Keri Glassman, ABC News journalist Dan Harris, best-selling author Mitch Albom and humorist and journalist Mo Rocca to speak alongside HSL experts. We invite you to follow our EngAGE conversations through social media on the day of the event by searching on Twitter for #HSLEngAGE.
I had a chance to catch up with Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D. and HSL Institute for Aging Research scientist Shivani Sahni, Ph.D., to get a preview of what they’ll be talking about at EngAGE and learn some tips on seniors and nutrition.
Keri, can you talk about your eight pillars of healthy living and how they apply to older adults?
Keri Glassman: Diet is just one component of a healthy life. Exercise, sleep, stress, relationships, and even our physical environment contribute to our health. For seniors, medication side effects, changes in appetite, and a loss of muscle mass can add to the challenge of living a healthy life. For example, medications can interfere with sleep and appetite. When you’re tired, you’re less likely to want to exercise, but exercise helps fight age-related muscle loss. It’s also harder to crave healthy foods when we’re tired because sleep affects our hunger and satisfaction hormones.
Can seniors still make diet changes that will improve their health? Is it ever “too late” to start eating healthier?
Keri: No, it’s never too late! Just keeping a positive attitude – believing that it’s always possible to make changes – will affect your mood, hormones, and overall health. Small changes can have an impact in just a few days if not hours. For example, swap diet soda for water and you’ll begin to notice better energy and fewer cravings for sweets. A healthy breakfast with protein will keep you satisfied all morning, avoiding that mid-morning crash. A healthy diet makes us feel better at any age.
What’s the most important change an older adult can make to his or her diet?
Shivani Sahni: Increase your protein. Seniors may need more protein than younger adults to maintain their muscle and bone health. But because we need fewer calories and often eat less as we age, getting enough protein can be challenging. Eat a variety of protein-rich foods such as low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, eggs, and lean meats throughout the day.
Some older adults have a harder time getting around the kitchen and/or eating healthy due to mobility and physical limitations. Keeping this in mind, what’s a simple way they can improve their nutritional intake?
Keri: Look for whole real foods at the grocery store that have already been chopped or prepped. For example, organic frozen vegetables, pre-cut fresh vegetables, or pre-marinated meats. This can be a little more expensive, so think about what’s most difficult for you – is it cutting meat? Standing to chop vegetables? – and invest your money there.
Fractures and osteoporosis are common in seniors. Shivani, based on your research, what tips can you share about how older adults can improve bone health through diet and nutrition?
Shivani: Eat colorful fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamin C, carotenoids, potassium and magnesium. In our studies, these nutrients have been linked with higher bone density and lower hip fracture risk among older adults. Try carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, and dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.
Consume calcium-rich foods such as dairy products. Our research shows that consuming 2 ½ - 3 servings of milk and yogurt per day is associated with higher bone density in the hip and reduced hip fracture risk. Choosing low-fat milk or yogurt over cream or ice cream can help you get not only calcium but also protein and vitamin D that your bones need while limiting unhealthy saturated fats.
You can also ask your health care provider to check your vitamin D level and take a supplement if it’s low. And limit your intake of sodium, caffeine and soda, which promote bone loss. As always, please consult your primary care physician for advice tailored to your individual health and well being before making any changes to your diet.
Keri Glassman, R.D., M.S., is a nationally recognized celebrity nutritionist, registered dietitian, healthy cooking expert, published author, and the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice and health and wellness brand. For years, Keri has been a leader in advancing a “whole person” approach to health and wellness.
Shivani Sahni, Ph.D., is a Nutritional Epidemiologist interested in examining the role of nutrition in the prevention of chronic diseases of aging. She is specifically interested in determining the role of diet and nutrition in bone loss, fracture, muscle health, and body composition. Dr. Sahni received her M.S. and Ph.D. degree in Nutritional Epidemiology from Tufts University and a Master’s degree in Dietetics from Delhi University, India. She is also an Instructor at Harvard Medical School.