News | Published September 11, 2017 | Written by Tammy McCormick, RD, CDE, LDN, registered dietitian, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Healthy eating as we age

Tammy McCormick, RD, CDE, LDN, registered dietitian, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Men and women are living longer and enjoying a more active lifestyle later in life. Research confirms that eating well can make a big impact on the quality of life for older adults, but it’s important to realize that as we age, our nutritional needs change.

For adults over age 50, eating healthy has many benefits, including increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness, more energy, and faster recovery time from health ailments. Healthy eating also assists in managing or reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, bone loss, Type 2 diabetes, and can help in staying emotionally healthy. 

As we age, we need less calories but more of certain nutrients. To ensure an adequate intake of what your body needs, make sure the foods you choose are packed with nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber) and do not contain a lot of empty calories (sugar, salt). By eating a variety of foods from all food groups, you can be sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

Specifically, older adults need more calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12.

Calcium is important to maintain bone health by preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures.  Older adults need 1000 - 1200 mg of calcium each day. Good sources of calcium are low fat milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese, tofu, almonds, canned sardines and salmon with the bones, and kale.

Vitamin D is needed to absorb the calcium. We get most of our Vitamin D from the sun, but with age, our skin does not do as good of a job at making Vitamin D. Good food sources of Vitamin D include low fat dairy products, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and sardines), egg yolks, and fortified foods. If you are between 50 and 70 years old, you need at least 600 IU’s of Vitamin D each day. If you are older than 70 years, you need at least 800 IU’s per day. Because the majority of us are deficient in Vitamin D, it is usually recommended to take 1000 IU’s in the summer and 2000 IU’s in the winter.

After age 50, our stomach produces less gastric acid, which is needed to absorb Vitamin B12.  Meat, fish, poultry, fortified foods or a vitamin supplement can provide the B12 your body needs. Before starting a vitamin supplement, talk with your healthcare provider.

An example of a balanced, healthy diet would include:

  • At least one to two cups of vegetables and one to two pieces of fruit each day. Be sure to eat all colors to get the antioxidants these foods provide. 
  • More fiber: choose whole grain breads and pastas, oats, beans/legumes, barley, black rice, nuts, and seeds
  • Two to three servings of fish each week
  • Healthier fats from oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters and less saturated fat
  • Adequate protein: try to eat a source of protein at all meals. Vary your sources of protein by eating more fish, beans/legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, low fat dairy products, poultry, soy products and less red meat
  • Decrease your salt intake by choosing other spices to season your food; there are many lower sodium alternatives at the grocery store
  • Aging can decrease thirst mechanism, aim for eight glasses of water a day or urine that is pale yellow; sign of getting enough water

For more information on healthy eating and other healthy aging topics, visit mountnittany.org.

Tammy McCormick, RD, CDE, LDN, is a dietitian and nutritionist with Mount Nittany Physician Group Endocrinology.

This article originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times