The Secret to Eating Well for Healthy Longevity
Nutrition is a never-ending concern since what you eat impacts the quality of your life whether you are a child, adult or senior. Food is vital to life. You know it is important to “eat right” but as you age it can become harder to know which foods are good for you. Nutritional needs change for seniors. Even the taste, smell and texture of food can change making it hard to eat for good health.
That doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy in your golden years though! Good nutrition is delicious and satisfying. You might even find that the foods recommended for good health are ones you remember from your childhood and will fill you with not only the fuel you need but those warm, nostalgic feelings that add to overall wellness.
How Nutrition Needs Change in Seniors
Good nutrition is the cornerstone of good health. Unfortunately, healthy eating habits can decline as you or your parent ages. One-third of seniors in North America admitted to the hospital will be suffering from some form of malnourishment.1
Loss of Smell
Malnourishment can often arise as a result of not understanding how your nutritional needs change as you age. Seniors will often report a loss of taste and smell. 75% of people over the age of 80 report losing their sense of smell 2. Without smell, you also lose the majority of your taste sensation. Food becomes boring when you can’t taste it!
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about testing for a loss of smell if you find food bland and tasteless. A loss of smell can be treated and allow you to enjoy your food once again.
Also, don’t be afraid to be heavy handed with the spices. Your taste and smell sensations can be tantalized by adding healthy and nutritious spices and herbs to almost any food. Unlike sugar, spices and herbs don’t add empty calories while increasing your enjoyment of food again.
Changes in the health of your mouth can make chewing and swallowing difficult. If you are suffering from dental pain, eating will seem like a chore instead of something you enjoy. Loss of teeth and gum disease can also make it impossible to chew meat. This makes it harder to meet protein requirements, which is horrible! As you age, you need more protein due to a decrease in stomach acid production, which inhibits the ability to absorb protein 3.
Your kidneys and lungs are responsible for maintaining a blood pH of 7.34-7.45. As you age, your kidney and lung function will be decreased. It becomes more difficult for your body to neutralize the acids that a diet high in refined carbohydrates, meat and salt produces. Providing your small intestine with more alkaline producing foods can protect your bones and muscles.
Your large intestine needs to have a healthy colony of bacteria to digest your food and reward you with regular bowel movements. Research shows that seniors have less than half the intestinal bacteria that they had in their 30s and 40s.
What You Should Eat for Healthy Longevity
Eating for healthy longevity can be a simple and rewarding challenge. As you eat healthier foods you will find your body feels stronger and you get more enjoyment out of life.
Eat Your Veggies
Mom was right. Eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Almost every diet will include a recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables. They are like nature’s multivitamins. Some of the most powerful sources of nutrition will be fruits and berries like grapes, pomegranates, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and goji berries.
Make sure you find room on your plate for all types of fruits and veggies. The MIND diet reports that an increase in leafy greens was able to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, protect against heart disease, prevent strokes and decrease hip fractures.
Dr. Terry Wahls recommends eating 9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day4, including 3 cups of leafy greens kale, collards, chard, spinach and lettuce; 3 cups of sulfur rich veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, onions and Brussel sprouts; as well as 3 cups of the beautiful, colorful vegetables and fruits like berries, peaches, citrus, beets, carrots and peppers.
According to Dr. Wahls this specific blend of fruits and vegetables will provide your body and brain with the 31 micronutrients essential to optimal functioning. As well a diet high in fruit and vegetables provide high levels of vitamin C and will alkalize the small intestine and provide protection for muscles and bones.
Don’t Be Afraid of Fat
Did you know that all those healthy nutrients found in vegetables are better able to be absorbed when you eat them with healthy fat 5? That’s right! Your body needs fat to be healthy. Fats can make your brain more resilient and make less tasty foods like vegetables more enjoyable to eat.
Some of the best fats to include are found in fish, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Don’t forget the heart friendly olive and coconut oil!
Fats that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids protect your heart, help you maintain normal cholesterol levels and boost your brain health 6.
Embrace Healthy Bacteria
Just like fat isn’t necessarily bad for you neither is gut bacteria. Eating foods that are fermented provide your intestines with strong and healthy bacteria that will fight off the true invaders like cold and flu viruses and infections. Probiotics (good bacteria) also help to digest your food and are good for your mental health.
Fermented foods are high in flavor which helps when your taste buds are tired. Try to include foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi each day. Start in small amounts if you aren’t used to fermented foods and soon your gut will thank you with better digestion and improved bowel function.
For probiotics to flourish they need to be matched with prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that are high in fiber and feed the probiotics in your gut. Good sources of prebiotics are bananas, berries, legumes, garlic, onions and nuts.
See? We are back to more fruits and veggies!
Beef Up Your Diet
Protein continues to be foundational for physical functioning. You might remember that reduced levels of stomach acid make it more difficult to absorb protein as you age. Making it even more important to be eating adequate amounts of protein in a day to keep your muscles strong.
Protein can be found in meats, eggs, beans and nuts. Although meat and nuts can become difficult to chew with dental issues you can try slow cooking your meat in sauces to make it more tender. Or a scoop of nut butter on a slice of toast.
Drink Your Water
Hydration is a serious issue for seniors and a vital part of healthy nutrition in old age 7. As you age it can become more difficult to feel cues of thirst and to forget to drink. Some good ideas would be to drink water flavored with lime juice and to enjoy foods regularly that are naturally high in water like soup and melons.
A pot of soup prepared with a generous helping of sulfur containing veggies, leafy greens, carrots, onions and some slow cooked meats served with a side of yogurt and berries would meet most of your nutritional needs in a day.
How to Promote Good Senior Health Through Nutrition
Good nutrition is not about how much you eat but focuses more on the quality of food that you eat. As you age, most people will report a decreased appetite. A normal part of aging caused by a quieter life with fewer physical demands.
Large meals can often be daunting. Try instead to focus on meals for seniors that provide high nutrition while in a small amount. Aim to include a few of the foods from this article in your day. Even a small change can benefit you and promote good health. Home Care Assistance caregivers are trained in healthy nutrition and can help you or a loved one by preparing a diet rich in essential nutrients. They can even do the grocery shopping and meal preparation making it even easier to eat for healthy longevity.