Eating Well to Age Well

Mary Keen

March is National Nutrition Month!
In observance of this, we would like to concentrate on the daily food choices that impact our health and how we look and feel. A combined approach of proper diet and exercise is one of the best tools we have for healthy aging. CJE SeniorLife is at the forefront of providing information, programs and health screenings for conditions that can be helped by good nutrition.

As you age, some foods may be better than others for staying healthy and reducing your chance of illness. Eating “healthy” can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer, and anemia. Combined with exercise, eating well can help us manage some chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. In addition, eating well can help improve our energy level, control our weight, manage indigestion and most important, the “shape” of our bowel movements which is closely related to the amount of fiber in our diet, according to the now-famous Dr. Mehmet Oz.

So where do you find the specifics on healthy eating? We turned to our own Andi Kaplan, R.N., B.S.N. She highly recommends the “Choose MyPlate” system developed by the Center for Nutrition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This plan divides the plate up in quadrants, allotting the largest portion to vegetables and a very small portion to protein. A more user-specific, detailed version of this system was devised by nutritionists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging: The “MyPlate for Older Adults” (see image at right) corresponds with “Choose MyPlate,” but calls attention  to the unique nutritional and activity needs of the aging population.

For more details about the MyPlate for Older Adults please visit: (link is external) myplate-older-adults.

As many people have discovered, eating healthy requires knowledge about nutrition and can also be more expensive since a healthy diet depends more on fresh fruit and vegetables. Fewer carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta and bread are used (think “comfort food”) even if these are more filling. If money is tight, the premium cost of fresh produce can be difficult.

Roadblocks to Eating Well

As much as older adults may want to eat well, there may be some special circumstances that make this a challenging proposition. Here’s how to jumpstart healthy eating. If you find that you’re eating less for any of these reasons below, then follow the subsequent tips listed:

You are weary of cooking or eating alone

Arrange for potluck meals or cooking with a friend.
Enjoy meals at senior or community centers.
Watch cooking shows or take a cooking class.
You have problems chewing food

See your dentist to check for problems, and, if you wear dentures, have the dentist check for fit.
You have difficulty in swallowing, drink plenty of liquids with meals and talk to your doctor about your dry mouth.
Food tastes different

Check with your doctor for dental problems or medication side effects.
Fact: Senses can change as you age.

Sadness is affecting your appetite

Ask your doctor for referral to a specialist for depression.
Fact: It’s normal to feel a little sad sometimes.

You are just not hungry

Get physically active (this increases hunger).
Make your food more flavorful; vary the shape, texture and color of your foods; try a new food
Don’t overcook food (this decreases flavor).
Cook or steam vegetables for a shorter time.
Fact: Changes to your body can cause you to feel fuller sooner.

Your stomach is uncomfortable when you have dairy products

See a doctor to see if you are lactose intolerant and need to limit dairy products. Be sure to meet your calcium and vitamin D needs in other ways.
Try non-dairy food sources of calcium, lactose-free milk and milk products, calcium and vitamin D fortified foods and supplements.
Your weight issues are adding to your frailty

Keep track of what you’re eating to make sure you are eating the right foods. Find out from your doctor how to safely lose weight.
Fact: Older persons who aren’t eating right can be either too thin or too heavy.
Fact: Older people who lose weight can lose valuable muscle and bone strength.

Source: NIH’s National Institute on Aging “What’s on Your Plate”.


Read more about "My Plate for Older Adults" >>>


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of LIFE, CJE SeniorLife's quarterly magazine.