Nutrition is the study of food and how the body uses it. For the 50+ adult, nutrition presents special challenges. First, as we age there is often a change in food fondness. Many older adults experience a loss of appetite due to sensory changes such as smell and taste. Medication may also affect sensory stimulation to food. Second, the ability to digest and absorb food can be reduced causing constipation and inadequate absorption of essential nutrients. Third, a lack of activity or an increasingly sedentary lifestyle can reduce your appetite. If you are not burning as many calories as before your appetite won’t be a strong which again can lead to poor nutritional intake. Fourth, the loss of a spouse and having to prepare meals for only one could lead to a decrease motivation to shop and prepare good nutritious meals.
On a daily basis, the average 50+ adult should consume approximately 1,900 calories for women and 2,300 calories for men. An active 50+ adult will need an even higher daily caloric intake to promote recovery and regeneration of muscle. Supplements may be added to a 50+ adult’s diet if they are unable to obtain these nutrients from the amount of food they consume. However, taking vitamins and minerals supplements may interact with prescription medicine. Consolation with your medical doctor is necessary before any supplements are taken.
Our diet has a profound effect on our health, diseases, aliments and discomforts as we age. Proper nutrition can help slow the aging process, maintain healthy and vital cells, provide better cell replication and decrease disease associated with tissue breakdown. Reducing your consumption of refined foods, sugar, fast foods and nutrient deficient food is a good start to an improved diet and better health.
It is important to remember that there is no cell in the body that is not influenced by our food choices. Eating the wrong foods will compromise the long term health of your body. Having a proper diet becomes even more important as we age, when we are under a state of stress or suffering from an ailment. It is never too late to make changes in your dietary habits that may slow down a disease or prevent a new one from arising.
Benefits of Good Nutrition
- Increased energy and stamina
- Decrease body fat and prevention of heart disease and certain types of cancer
- Better ability to regenerate tissue breakdown
- Stronger muscles and reduced loss of muscle mass.
- Stronger bones, ligaments and tendons
- Better weight control
- Proper hormone and enzyme development for proper body function
- Healthier skin, hair and nails.
- Decrease feeling of depression and stronger, more positive mental outlook
- Increase ability to cope with stress.
The body needs six essential nutrients or components of food to function properly. Carbohydrates, fat and protein are energy nutrients because they provide energy for the body to move and function. They are referred to as macro-nutrients.Energy in food is measured in units called calories. Carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories per gram and fat provides 9 calories per gram.
Vitamins, minerals and water are the remaining three essential nutrients. They do not provide energy, but play a critical role in our bodily functions. Vitamins are needed for the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Minerals are needed to regulate levels of body fluids, transportation of oxygen in the blood, bone health and hormone development. Water makes up 60% of our body and is necessary for digestion, metabolism, regulation of body temperature and lubrication of joints. The body loses water during both regular daily activities and exercise. Thirst is the first sign of dehydration so it is important to drink water even before you are thirsty. If your urine is dark yellow, you need more water. Ideally, your urine should be pale yellow or clear.
Regardless of age, a person should restrict their intake of sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, fried foods, hydrogenated fats and food additives. Meals should be focused on whole natural and unrefined foods. Water, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean red meats, poultry, fish, whole grains and unrefined oils should make up the bulk of everyone’s weekly diet.
Table 1 shows how a balanced diet should be presented on your plate.
Table 1: Balanced Diet
Percentage of your Diet/Plate
|Carbohydrates||50%||Fruits,vegetables and whole grains.|
|Proteins||25%||Fish, seafood, lean red meats, poultry, eggs, dairy products, beans & legumes, nuts and seeds|
|Fats||25% (Only 10% saturated fats (solid at room temperature such as butter and animal fat))||Eggs, cold water fish, oils (olive, flax, sunflower), nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts)|
Eating and Activity/Exercise
Physical activity and exercise puts additional stress on your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. Maintaining a balanced diet is essential to ensure that muscle glycogen stores are available to fuel the activity/exercise as well as to make sure proper tissue development and maintenance occurs following the activity.
Pre-exercise snacks are important to help avoid fatigue during and after the activity/exercise sessions. Healthy snacks include: fruit and vegetables, yogurt, fruit smoothes, dates and raisins, nuts and whole grain cereal/crackers. After exercise it is important to replenish muscle glycogen stores to promote recovery. The post exercise snack should be high in carbohydrates and some protein.
As we age our sensation for thirst diminishes and our fluid intake can suffer. A good rule of thumb is to consume 6 to 10 cups of water per day. There may be additional hydration requirements based on illness and prescription drugs. 50+ adults should consult with their medical doctor to ensure adequate hydration with physical activity and medication.
A Plan for Good Nutrition
Here are basic guidelines for developing a healthy diet;
- Eat a variety of foods. Follow Canada’s Food Guide recommendations with respect to amounts from each food group (meats, dairy, grains and fruits and vegetables).
- Choose a diet low in fat and limited saturated fat and cholesterol for heart disease prevention.
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and grains
- Limit simple sugars.
- Minimize salt intake
- Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation
- Balance food intake with physical activity
- Monitor caloric intake for weight control
- Be realistic with respect to your diet. Follow the 80:20 rule. During the course of the week eat 80% healthy foods and 20% or less unhealthy foods.
Eat Well Live Well for a Lifetime
The Dieticians of Canada have developed the LIFE program for 50+ adults. It promotes:
L– Lifestyle – Being active and feeling good with family and friends leads to a healthy lifestyle.
I – Independence – Healthy eating protects you from illness and maintains your daily life.
F –Food Choices – Be realistic, adventurous, flexible and sensible with your choices.
E– Energy – Healthy eating and regular physical activity gives you energy to get going and keep going.
It is essential that you eat well on a consistent basis for health and vitality. The 80-20 rule is a realistic plan to follow. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect with your diet but you are what you eat so make good food choices the majority of the time. For good weight control, it is best if you combine regular exercise with a balanced diet.
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