Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Healthy eating may slow development of dementia and ward off chronic disease among older adults

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As as older adult, you have specific nutrient needs.  And, knowing and meeting your dietary needs can help you live a longer and healthier life.
Key nutrients may be absent from seniors diets or may be less well absorbed.  If you know these key nutrients, you can seek out foods containing them to be sure not to become deficient.
Some of these key nutrients include calcium, vitamin D, potassium, vitamin B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, phytonutrients like lycopene and flavonoids, as well as antioxidants like selenium and vitamin C.
To achieve the best balance of these nutrients, as with most age groups, a balanced, varied diet is your best bet.  However, special focus on certain foods and drinks will help ensure their inclusion in your diet.
The first and possibly most important two groups of foods are fruits and vegetables.  These foods provide the antioxidants responsible for neutralizing free radicals, thus reducing cell damage and risk of diseases, including cancer.  Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber – an important nutrient for maintaining good digestive health, including regularity.  If you consume plenty of fruits and vegetables (and also healthy amounts of whole grains), you likely will not need to take a fiber supplement.  Plus, fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium (and often high in potassium) which means they are heart healthy and help to keep your blood pressure in check. Be careful not to salt your cooked vegetables (or other foods) to minimize your risk of elevated blood pressure from dietary sodium.
As a side note, use caution with grapefruit.  Many older adults should avoid this fruit, as it often interferes with medications like those used to treat blood pressure and cholesterol.  Check your medicine labels to ensure no other foods should be avoided when you take your medicines.
If you struggle with teeth sensitivity, you may wish to cook your fruits and veggies gently to make them easier to chew.  Alternatively, consider drinking smoothies so your fruits and veggies are puréed and require little or no chewing.
Some especially good-for-you fruits and veggies include spinach (try frozen!), sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, tomatoes (lycopene for prostate health), berries, apples, prunes (can help with preventing constipation), oranges (or a small glass of orange juice), broccoli and more.
Dairy foods or soy products are great sources of calcium (and sometimes vitamin D) needed for bone health.  Eat low fat or fat free yogurt and milks.  Cheese is fine in moderation, too.  Try potent cheeses like aged cheddar or Parmesan, and enjoy them slowly, to achieve their flavor potentials.
If you struggle with taste losses, consider spicing up your foods and drinks with complex flavors.  This can help stimulate taste buds and improve acceptance of foods.  Additionally, you can earn yourself a lot of antioxidants.  For example, use lots of herbs and salt-free spices when cooking.  Great choices include cinnamon, Italian herbs (like basil, parsley and rosemary), turmeric and dill.  Garlic and peppers also add great salt-free flavors.  Try the varieties of Mrs Dash salt-free seasonings, too.
When it comes to fats, try to limit butter and stick margarine, even if you grew up using them.  Instead opt for olive oil, canola oil or tub margarines.  Flavored oils and nut oils also add nice flavor and unsaturated rather than saturated fats – a bonus for your heart.  Nuts themselves provide healthy fats, too, with the added benefits of fiber and protein.
Also, be sure to get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish like salmon or tuna (try canned chunk light tuna) at least 2-3 times a week.  If you don’t eat fish, talk to your doctor about starting a fish oil supplement.  Omega-3’s are essential for managing total body inflammation including ailments like heart disease, hypertension, dementia and arthritis.
Next, use caution when consuming sugars and alcohol.  Both can raise triglycerides and even cholesterol.  Instead of nightly ice cream, consider swapping it out with a little bit of heart-friendly dark chocolate.  If you drink alcohol, keep it in moderation…one drink daily for women or two drinks daily for men…and ideally consume it with a meal, rather than on its own.  Red wine may be a preferable to other alcoholic beverages, since it contains flavonoids (like dark chocolate) that may benefit heart health.
Finally, stay hydrated with non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day.  Consider filling a pitcher (i.e. lemon water, decaf green tea) every day or setting 4 (16-oz) water bottles per person in the fridge daily.  This will help remind you to drink all your fluids by the end of the day.
With the right nutrition, you can achieve optimal health as an older adult and feel well, too.  Consider adding a handful of these tips to your regular routine.  As you are comfortable, add more to optimize your diet.  And enjoy your older…and wiser years!

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