Obesity is a growing concern among our population and has been linked to many chronic diseases. While much of society's focus has been on reducing childhood obesity, poor dietary habits of older adults has gone basically unrecognized.
As we age, nutrient requirements change and the consumption of a nutrient-dense diet becomes imperative as part of health maintenance and/or improvement. Because caloric needs tend to decrease with age, the importance of choosing healthy foods should become a priority.
Unfortunately, a variety of factors contribute to poor food choices among older adults. Many live alone and find cooking for one to be too much trouble. Others enjoy the social connection that comes with going out for lunch or dinner and often fill up on high-fat, high carbohydrate, high sodium restaurant meals. A limited budget may present a perceived obstacle to healthier food choices.
Physical changes such as reduced strength, arthritic hands, and fatigue may make slicing, cutting, and cooking more difficult. Decreased endurance and/or the fear of falling can make grocery shopping a daunting task. Then, of course, the groceries have to be carried into the house and put away - which can leave some physically exhausted.
Though calorie requirements decrease as we age, many of the nutrient requirements remain the same, and some actually increase. Older adults require more calcium and Vitamin D to combat age-related decrease in bone mass. The digestive system becomes less efficient limiting nutrient absorption. Recent research suggests that the need for antioxidants increases to provide protection against many chronic diseases and illnesses.
The immune system also becomes less efficient, meaning it becomes more difficult to fight illness and infection and recovery takes more time. Vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins E and C, zinc, and magnesium may have a positive effect on the immune system, yet are often lacking in the standard American diet.
The overconsumption of high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium processed foods combined with the limited consumption of foods rich in macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals has resulted in a culture of older adults who are overfed/overweight, yet lacking the nutrients their bodies needs.
There are many simple changes that can improve your overall diet. Rather than grabbing another bagel or packaged muffin, reach for a banana and a serving of oatmeal. Include roasted or steamed vegetables with your lunch and dinner. Snack on low-sugar yogurt, fresh fruit, a small handful of nuts, or air-popped popcorn. Create a healthy plate by including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy oils.
When cooking for yourself, cook a bit extra to use for another meal. To stay within your budget, purchase only the amount of produce that you will eat in a week to avoid throwing any away. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be a good alternative during the winter months or as a way to purchase a larger portion of something such as green beans without worry of them going bad before you can eat them all. Just be sure to buy those with no added sauces or flavorings, which include added fats and sodium.
Aging is inevitable, but disease, illness, and loss of vitality do not have to be. Many factors contribute to healthy aging, including exercise, stress management, and social interaction. Choosing to make healthy changes to your diet can reduce inflammation and pain, improve your ability to manage current chronic illnesses, and reduce your risk of developing new health issues.
Don't just live - Live Well.
Better Diet, Better Life, Better You!