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How to Stay Healthy with Nutritional Changes for Aging Adults 

Introduction

Getting older is inevitable and brings about many changes in our health, well-being, and finances. For one thing, insurance rates for an older adult are higher than rates for a 20-year-old. Our health and well-being are also impacted in numerous ways.

In the early 1900s, life expectancy was around 47 years old. That age has increased to around 78 years old, which has several implications for economics, health, and medical care.

A longer life expectancy puts a strain on our health care system and health care providers. One important thing to understand is that many physical and physiological changes happen to our bodies as we get older.

We tend to be less active as we age, so we need fewer calories. But that doesn’t mean we need fewer nutrients like protein, water, vitamins, and minerals. Eating more nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and healthy fats is essential to get the nutrients we need without overdoing the calories.

The American Medical Association recommends a daily low-dose multivitamin for all adults. There are multivitamins designed specifically for older adults with the right balance of vitamins and minerals for adults in this age group.

While a multivitamin is helpful, it is vital to ensure we are getting enough nutrients from the foods we eat. Whole, unprocessed, heart-healthy foods should be the staple of our diet.

Here are some of the most important nutritional recommendations for aging adults.

Make Plant-Based, Unprocessed Foods the Foundation of Your Diet

Make Plant-Based, Unprocessed Foods the Foundation of Your Diet

Foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and soy products like tofu, edamame, and tempeh should be consumed most often. These foods are full of nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Phytonutrients, which are compounds found in plant foods, have an added boost to health. These compounds can help lower risk for many diseases like cancer, heart disease, and age-related macular degeneration.

The Mediterranean diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) method are both excellent options for older adults. Both eating plans focus on plant-based foods as the foundation and include heart-healthy choices like nuts, olive oil, fish, and fiber-rich foods.

You do not have to be a vegetarian or vegan to eat more plant-focused meals. Try rice and beans, tofu or tempeh with vegetables in a stir fry, or quinoa with vegetables.   

Enjoy 2 Servings of Fish per Week

Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health, brain health, and joint health. Omega-3s help fight inflammation in the body, which can potentially lead to many health conditions.

The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of two servings of fish per week like salmon, tuna, sardines, or other types of fish. A serving is 3 to 4 ounces of fish. Seafood like shrimp and scallops also have omega-3 fatty acids.

Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts can also provide small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, so add those to your meals or snacks when possible. These foods also contain fiber and heart-healthy fats.  

Get Plenty of Vitamin B12

After age 50, vitamin B12 is not absorbed by the stomach as well as it is when we are younger. The composition of our stomach acid changes, so we are unable to absorb as much natural vitamin B12 as we get older.

A supplement of vitamin B12 found in a multivitamin or single B12 vitamin is essential for older adults. Adding foods fortified with vitamin B12, like cereals or soy milk, is also helpful.  

Drink Fluids Throughout the Day

Drink Fluids Throughout the Day

Healthy fluid options include water, coffee, tea, low-fat milk, with limited amounts of juice or other high-calorie, sugary beverages. Our thirst mechanism, which signals us to feel thirsty based on physiological changes in the body, does not work as well as we get older.

This causes older adults to feel less thirsty throughout the day, but hydrating is still essential.  

Moderate Your Alcohol Intake

Increased alcohol consumption in older adults can be related to depression or grief. Moderate alcohol intake includes one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Older adults should limit their alcohol consumption to less than three drinks per day and no more than seven drinks per week.

Some older adults may need to avoid alcohol entirely depending on their health status or use of prescription medications. Overconsumption of alcohol can interfere with medication, increase the risk for falls and fractures, impair judgment and coordination, and can worsen depression.  

Eat Protein-Packed Foods

EAT PROTEIN-PACKED FOODS

Older adults need plenty of protein to maintain muscle mass but may eat less protein than younger adults. Older adults tend to eat less protein because meat can be expensive on a limited food budget, and it is harder to chew with dental problems.

Beans, nuts, soy products, dairy products, eggs, and seafood are other protein sources that are cheaper and easier to eat.  

Fill up on Fiber Foods: Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are the best sources of fiber. Fiber helps prevent constipation and diverticulosis. It can also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Whole grains have more fiber than their white processed counterparts and include brown rice, oats, quinoa, and whole grains cereals, bread, and pasta.  

Fill up on Fiber Foods: Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are the best sources of fiber. Fiber helps prevent constipation and diverticulosis. It can also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Whole grains have more fiber than their white processed counterparts and include brown rice, oats, quinoa, and whole grains cereals, bread, and pasta.  

Eat 3 (or more) Servings of Low-Fat Dairy Products  

Milk and yogurt are excellent sources of vitamin D and calcium. A lack of vitamin D can lead to muscle pain or weakness. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for healthy bones and help to prevent osteoporosis.

Eat Iron Rich Foods

Eat Iron Rich Foods

Iron is vital for transporting oxygen with red blood cells. Too little iron can lead to fatigue, confusion, or weakness. Iron is best absorbed from animal foods, like meat, but is also found in some plant foods like cereals, rice, beans, bread, and pasta.

Vitamin C surprisingly helps your body better absorb iron from plant foods. For example, if you are eating beans and rice for dinner, add vegetables high in vitamin C like tomatoes, bell peppers, or broccoli to your meal. These foods help absorb the iron from the rice and beans.

If you enjoy iron-rich cereal for breakfast, add strawberries, or drink some orange juice to get vitamin C. These will help with the absorption of the iron from the cereal.  

Eat Immune-Boosting Vitamins and Minerals

The vitamins and minerals that play a role in boosting your immune system include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin A
  • Beta carotene
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

The best sources of these essential nutrients are fruits, vegetables, olive oil, low-fat dairy, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean protein foods.

Probiotics and Prebiotics Keep Your Gut Healthy

New research is illustrating the importance of probiotics and prebiotics and their role in promoting healthy bacterial growth to protect our gut. Probiotics are live bacteria that are important for many health conditions like preventing diarrhea and lessening inflammation in the body. Probiotics are found in fermented or cultured foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh.

Prebiotics help feed the healthy bacteria in our gut, so they flourish. They are found in foods with fiber like onions, apples, garlic, bananas, leeks, asparagus, and oats. There is not much evidence to suggest that probiotic or prebiotic supplements are beneficial, so try to eat plenty of these essential foods in your diet.  

Physical Therapy is Also Important

Regular physical activity and exercise are also crucial for older adults. A beginner resistance training program can help maintain bone mass. The proper program can also preserve muscle mass that is lost as we age, which also helps boost metabolism.

Cardiorespiratory activities like swimming, walking, and dancing are great for heart-health and improving blood flow. Staying active helps make daily activities easier, keeps individuals mobile, and helps improve balance. Exercise can also provide relief to arthritis pain and help relieve hip pain.

About the Author

Melissa Morris gives fitness and healthy living advice on the auto insurance site, 4AutoInsuranceQuote.com, and she has an MS in exercise science. She is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist. She teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa.

About Carex Health Brands

Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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