One of the themes celebrated this September is Healthy Aging Month. Although we can’t control the fact that we are all getting older, we can be in charge of how we treat our bodies. Today I’d like to explore some of the ways we can stay healthy as we age and how healthy eating can support healthy aging.
As we age, we lose lean muscle mass. Starting around the age of 30, we lose three to eight percent of our muscle every decade. On top of that, it becomes harder to increase our muscle mass as we get older. To slow down these losses, it is important to stay active. Protein and carbohydrates play a vital role in creating and maintaining muscle mass. No need to go overboard though. You only need to eat 10 to 35 percent of your total calories when building muscle. Eating more protein than these recommended amounts isn’t likely to show any more benefit.
Carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and low fat milk or yogurt are important for fueling your muscles. Aim for 50 percent of your calories from carbohydrates to get you through your workouts.
Vitamin and mineral needs also change as we age. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for maintaining bone health. Getting these nutrients from foods is optimal and many foods are fortified with one or both. Look for Vitamin D fortified dairy or calcium fortified cereals and juices. Don’t forget canned fish with bones and dark leafy greens.
Vitamin B12 is another concern as we age. Not only we do not eat enough of this vitamin, we can also lose our ability to absorb it. Lean meat and fortified foods are good sources to look for to build your reserves. Consider checking with your doctor or dietitian to make sure you aren’t deficient in B12.
Potassium can help lower your risk of high blood pressure. This, along with reducing the amount of sodium you eat, can prove beneficial. The best sources of potassium are fruits, vegetables and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt. Putting down the salt shaker and eating less processed foods will help decrease your overall sodium intake.
Don’t forget fiber! As we age, our bowels can run our lives. Not only can high fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans and peas help us stay regular, they can help reduce heart disease risk. Current recommendations encourage us to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber day.
Finally, keep in mind that as we get older, we don’t need as many calories as we used to. Conversely, as we need less calories, we actually need more of the nutrients that I mentioned above. Focusing on the quality of the food you consume needs to take center stage. Every food choice you make needs to matter. So the next time you are looking for a meal or snack, consider choosing more nutrient dense foods that will give you the best bang for your buck. Your future health depends on it!
Mary Koch is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Questions may be sent to Mary at email@example.com.