Health & Wellness Committee: As You Age, Be Sure to Adjust Your Food Routine

Jennifer Hall, Weavers Way Health & Wellness Committee

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., the Health & Wellness Committee is sponsoring the workshop “Healthy Aging and Nutrition.” You can hear from nutrition experts on the above topics, learn specific foods for common conditions and get suggestions for healthy changes that work with your lifestyle. The workshop is free and will take place at Sage Integrative Health Center, 538 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy.

Nutrition plays a vital role in our health, and as we age, it is natural for our bodies to have different nutritional needs. It is important to be aware of these changes and adjust our diets accordingly. They include changes in metabolism, bone density, digestion and sensory input.

Is your metabolism slowing down?

The body’s resting metabolism tends to decline with age. We are no longer little kids with seemingly endless energy reserves. With the decrease in activity level, our energy requirements decrease, and we need to eat less. Research suggests that our body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients becomes less efficient, and so our nutrient requirements increase. The challenge then becomes consuming as much or more nutrients while eating fewer calories. A solution is to focus on quality, not quantity. This means eating more nutrient-dense foods and fewer empty-calorie foods.

Most empty-calorie foods are highly processed and contain added fat and sugar. These are the foods that many of us love: sweets, soft drinks, chips, fried foods and alcoholic drinks that contain few or no nutrients. 

So what should we be eating? Aim for the foods at the perimeter of your typical grocery store: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meat, dairy and some of the healthier prepared foods.

Are your bones cracking when you stand?

Around the age of 30, bone density diminishes in men and women, causing them to become more fragile. Even though bone density declines at that age, most people don’t start thinking about osteoporosis and osteoarthritis for another 10-15 years.

But paying attention to your health early can avoid problems later. The nutrients that support bone health include calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. Calcium-rich foods include milk; yogurt; fortified dairy-free milk; dark, leafy greens and beans. If you’re not out in the sun enough, you might need to take a vitamin D supplement. The current recommendation is 600 IU a day until 70 years of age and if you’re over 70, 800 IU per day. To achieve your recommended 4,700 mg of potassium, consume plenty of bananas, potatoes, prunes, squash, lima beans and spinach.

Upset tummy or slow digestion?

Our digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food we eat into components the body can use. As we age, our digestive system may become less efficient due to poor diet and lifestyle choices as well as different medications we have taken. This inefficiency can lead to constipation, poor immune function and dehydration. 

It’s important to hydrate properly. Water is the most important nutrient, as it serves many essential functions. As we age, our thirst signals aren’t as loud as they used to be and it’s easy to become dehydrated. Adequate fluid and fiber intake, along with physical activity, can combat constipation and dehydration. Keep a large water bottle handy and sip from it throughout the day.

Can you taste your food?

Sensory changes that occur with age include a decline in sight and peripheral vision, hearing, smell and taste. These changes don’t come all at once, but they can affect nutritional intake and overall health. If food does not smell or taste good, it most likely will not be eaten. Or more salt may be added to food, possibly leading to hypertension. Instead of increasing salt, add herbs and spices to foods. You can also roast or sauté vegetables instead of boiling them, add fruits to bland foods like oatmeal or plain yogurt, top salads with crispy onions or nuts and purchase produce that’s in season for the best flavor.

Jennifer Hall, MS, is a nutritionist and health coach who is committed to supporting her clients’ health goals by using evidence-based nutrition and functional medicine to achieve a healthy lifestyle.