This is the third installment of our “Be A Better You” series, which provides in-depth healthy living tips on the first Friday of each month. This series will run through 2017. It’s like a New Year Resolution, but better!
It may seem like an odd metaphor, but comparing the human body to a car is not far from the truth. Like a car, our body is made up of many interrelated parts, but in order for those parts to continue doing their specific tasks, they need fuel. And food is the fuel our body needs. Just as there are different fuel options at gas stations, there are also different food options that are best to keep your body healthy and strong as you age.
Jessie Gaul, a certified nutritionist and wellness educator, tells us that not all foods are created equal. “Instead of eating empty-calorie foods, such as potato chips and sweets, a well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats and poultry, dairy, whole grains, nuts and seeds is a good place to start to obtain the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” says Gaul. “As we age, eating healthy can seem difficult and arduous, but there are key nutrients that people over the age of 65 need to consume on a regular basis.”
When it comes to senior nutrition, even making small, simple changes to your diet can go a long way in benefiting your overall health. Since March is National Nutrition Month, here are the five essential nutrients you’ll need to create a balanced diet and stay healthy as you age:
Although none of us are immune to the muscle loss that occurs naturally as we age, eating high-quality protein can help to preserve muscle mass and function. Gaul tells us that it’s important to consume the recommended 25-30 grams of protein at every meal. As an added bonus, “protein keeps you feeling full throughout the day,” says Gaul, “so you won’t be tempted to grab that bag of pretzels in your pantry.”
Try These High-Protein Snacks:
- Trail Mix
- Chia pudding
- Quinoa “oatmeal” or porridge
- Protein shake (Bone Broth Protein, Whey Protein or Plant-Based Protein)
- Lean, high quality Jerky
- Fruit and Nut Bar
- Cottage cheese with fruit spread
- Roasted chickpeas
- Apple slices and peanut butter
When it comes to creating a balanced diet, both calcium and vitamin D are essential since they promote bone strength, encouraging better overall health. Since older adults are more vulnerable to these deficiencies, due to how our body changes as we age, senior nutrition experts recommend consuming at least 1,200 milligrams (about 4 cups) of calcium per day. Vitamin D, however, can be much more difficult to obtain from food, which is why Gaul recommends speaking with your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements.
Try These High-Calcium/Vitamin D Snacks:
- Kale chips
- Spinach salad
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Greek yogurt with fruit or granola or nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- Hard boiled eggs with cheese and almonds
Not only does it help maintain regularity, but a high-fiber diet also decreases your risk of heart disease, colon cancer and can even lower your cholesterol. Senior nutrition experts recommend consuming 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories, but Gaul reassures us that if you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, then you’re probably already consuming a fair amount of fiber.
Try These High-Fiber Snacks:
- Pear and cottage cheese
- Rice cakes with almond butter and banana
- Hummus and crudité
Many people don’t realize that eating healthy food has a positive impact on your mood and energy levels. In fact, a vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common causes of depression among seniors. While vitamin B12 is most commonly found in animal products and byproducts, you can also incorporate this vitamin into your diet without having to consume copious amounts of red meat and fish. “One of the easiest ways is sprinkling Nutritional Yeast onto foods,” Gaul says. “Extremely high in Vitamin B12, Nutritional Yeast is a vegan supplement that tastes similar to parmesan cheese. You can add it to meats, grains, vegetables or even on popcorn!”
Try These High-Vitamin B12 Snacks:
- Salmon Jerky
- Popcorn seasoned with Nutritional Yeast
- Liver pate
Potassium is essential in regulating bodily fluid, and low potassium levels, usually caused by a high sodium intake or dehydration, can negatively affect your blood pressure and even cause kidney damage, Gaul tells us. Should you notice any of the symptoms of a low potassium level such as weakness, muscle cramps and stomach pain, take any necessary steps to increase your potassium intake and contact your physician to ensure it isn’t connected to a deeper health concern.
Try These High-Potassium Snacks:
- Sweet potatoes
- White beans
- Orange Juice
- Almonds and sunflower seeds
The Benefits of Eating Healthy
When it comes to senior nutrition, a balanced diet is the best way to combat age-related health problems and, as you can see, you don’t have to rearrange your whole life in order to do so. Incorporating healthier foods into your daily diet simply takes a little more planning before hitting the grocery store.
Jessie Gaul received her Bachelor of Applied Science from Johnson & Wales University in Culinary Nutrition. She is currently a lifestyle and wellness trainer.