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Eating Well for Later in Life

March 08, 2018

Very often, when we think about food, we think short-term. What’s for dinner today? What do we need from the grocery store this week? While we do need to plan our next meal, we also need to think about eating for the future. 

More Than an Issue of Weight

A healthy diet decreases the risk of obesity, but eating well has benefits that go beyond weight. Healthy eating, including a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, can reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes. 

Eating better can help us age better. A recent study following 1000 people who were born in 1946 throughout adulthood found that those who ate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and fewer highly processed foods throughout adulthood, had better physical function in their 60s than those who didn’t eat as well. 

The physical functions tested were chair rise speed, which is associated to leg power; standing balance time, which can indicate fall risks; and up and go speeds, which also indicate risk of falls and frailty

This study demonstrates the benefits of healthy eating to maintain strength and reduce the risk of falls later in life. 

Nutrition Needs Change With Aging 

Eating needs change with age. Muscle mass decreases—and that weakness can increase the likelihood of falls. Metabolism slows down, and although nutrition needs stay the same or increase, our bodies may have trouble absorbing some nutrients, such as vitamin B12, which maintains the health of our nerve and blood cells. We may also have trouble absorbing magnesium, which is a mineral that helps in the regulation of muscle and nerve function, helps control blood sugar levels and assists in making protein in our body. Magnesium can also aid in reducing blood pressure, along with potassium and calcium. 

What may make eating even more challenging with age is that older adults also sometimes experience a loss of appetite. Ill health, inactivity, depression, dementia and loneliness can affect the feeling of hunger. Because of that, making sure that we consume nutrient-dense foods as we age is especially important. 

Eating Well With Age 

Nutrient-dense foods give more “bang for the buck,” providing high nutritional value. A serving of potato chips, for example, provide less potassium, protein, fiber, vitamin C and magnesium than a potato—for similar calories. By selecting a baked potato instead of chips, we give our bodies better quality fuel. 

Is your diet helping you as you age? The AARP outlines the vitamins, minerals and supplements most needed as we age, and the USDA offers an interactive tool that helps calculate nutritional needs based on gender, age, height, weight and activity level. 

Your doctor and a registered dietitian can help you determine what your individual nutritional needs are, taking into account your health and lifestyle. Remember, nutrition is important at any age—and it’s never too late to improve your diet.

Talk to your Orlando Health Physician Associates Primary Care Doctor to schedule an appointment with our Registered Dietitians

From routine well-care visits to the unavoidable sick visits, you’ll enjoy easy access and personalized care. We take the time to listen, answer questions and clearly explain conditions and treatment options. Moreover, our physicians practice collaborative medicine, working with you to help keep your family happy and healthy.

Request an Appointment Today

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