New Year and Getting Older - Nutrition for Healthy Aging

By Parul Kharod

Another year is over and we head into 2019 with having aged some more. Getting older is inevitable; however we do have control over how we age. As life expectancy increases, we have a larger population of people 60 years and above. It is important to take steps to stay healthy and independent as you get older.

Optimum Food Intake: As we get older, our nutrient requirements change. As the metabolism changes, older adults need less calories. If you eat the same amount of food as before, there is a risk of weight gain. However, there are some seniors who overly restrict their intake, or are not able to eat because of chewing or swallowing issues. These seniors may not get enough calories. Therefore, it is important to eat a good diet to maintain a healthy weight throughout life and to moderately reduce energy intake as we grow older without reducing our nutrient intake. Choose plenty of colorful vegetables, 1-2 fruits, variety of whole grains, pulses, and healthy fats from nuts and seeds. Avoid sugary beverages, excess sweets and salty and fried snacks. Eating a balanced diet will also provide vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Trying to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet becomes much more difficult when teeth are weak, painful, loose or missing, or when dentures do not fit properly. So make sure to take care of your teeth. If chewing is an issue, eat pureed vegetable and daal, soups, and other soft foods.

Adequate Protein Intake: Recent research studies are showing that older adults need slightly more protein to prevent muscle loss and to protect bones. Choose a variety of pulses and lentils and nuts and seeds for adequate protein. If chewing nuts is an issue due to teeth, powder them or add them to a smoothie.

Ideal Water Intake: Many older adults get hospitalized due to dehydration. Make sure to develop a habit to drink water throughout the day. We need about 2.5 liters of water daily. Avoid soda, diet soda, and other sugary beverages. Limit tea and coffee to two cups per day. Hot herbal teas are okay. Fluid intake can also be increased by having a smoothie or soup.

Essential Vitamin/Mineral Intake: As we age, absorption of some vitamins can be reduced. Older adults are at a higher risk for Vitamin B deficiencies. It may be helpful to take a B-complex vitamin supplement to get adequate amount of Vitamin B6, B12 and Folate. Vitamin D deficiency is also quite common. Have your primary care physician check your Vitamin D levels and take supplements as prescribed.

Ten Tips for Healthy Aging

1. Live an active life: Stay active and do something you will enjoy. Go on a walk or do gardening or any activity that makes you move. Do not sit in one place for too long. Walk in place while watching TV if you are not able to go out alone. This will help with stronger bones and increasing flexibility to prevent falls. Being active also helps with mood and prevents depression.

2. Eat healthy foods: Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. Avoid sweet, salty, and highly processed foods. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs. With age comes a cluster of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and weight gain. All of these are preventable by eating a well-balanced diet.

3. Maintain your brain: Some cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. Don't stop learning and challenging your mind! Take dance lessons, learn a new language, attend lectures at a local university, and learn to play a musical instrument, read a book, and do crossword or Sudoku. Eat foods that help nourish your brain.

4. Cultivate your relationships: Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change. Schedule regular time to meet with friends and family, arrange a weekly shared meal, or around a common interest. Reach out to friends who might be isolated or feel lonely.

5. Get enough sleep: Humans can go longer without food than without sleep. Older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults – seven to nine hours per night – but often get much less. Lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk, and memory problems. Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine. Keep your bedroom dark and noise-free — avoid watching television or surfing the internet while in bed. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.

6. Reduce stress: Long-term stress can damage brain cells and lead to depression. Stress may also cause memory loss, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infection. In fact, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of illness is either caused or complicated by stress. Learn better techniques to cope with stress. Take care of yourself when you are stressed by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutritious foods. Talk to a loved one or counselor about your stress, and try some relaxation techniques, such as circular breathing, yoga, or meditation.

7. Practice prevention: Many accidents, illnesses, and common geriatric health care conditions, such as falls, chronic illness, depression, and frailty, are preventable. Get regular medical checkup and ask for help when needed.

8. Take charge of your health: Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your lifestyle, and make those changes. You are your own best advocate. Contact your primary care practitioner for an annual physical or whenever you have a concern about your health. Review your current prescription and non-prescription medications and supplements.

9. Make community connections: Older adults who engage in meaningful community activities like volunteer work report feeling healthier and less depressed. Join a planning committee, volunteer, take a trip with friends, play cards at your local senior center, or join a book club.

10. Be happy: No one can make you happy except yourself. Don't rely on family or friends for your happiness. Living alone does not mean being lonely. Learn to enjoy your own company and find activities that give you peace and happiness.

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and harmonious New Year!

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com