Last week was National Senior Health and Fitness Day. It is a great opportunity for Seniors to take a minute to evaluate their lifestyle habits and goals, and Galter LifeCenter provides some great reminders and new info via health, fitness and nutrition events all day long at the end of each May.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to a group of seniors regarding how nutrient needs change as we age. We covered a lot of good information, and I received many great questions during the event, as well as good feedback regarding the helpful information. In case you missed it, here is a brief summary of some of the important points we discussed, as well as some yummy recipes that can help meet your nutrient needs.
Metabolism Changes: Changes in hormones and loss of muscle mass cause our metabolism (the process for converting food to energy) to slow down over time. Add in the fact that many people become less active as they age, and there are two reasons that calorie needs decline. If your food intake doesn't adjust (decrease) accordingly, you are likely to put on weight as time goes by. Add strength training to your routine to help prevent that muscle loss.
Cardiovascular Health: As you age, your heart and blood vessels become more stiff. The stiffer arteries are less able to expand when more blood is pumped through them. Thus, blood pressure can increase and other heart problems can develop. Stop smoking, keep exercising and follow a heart healthy diet that includes lots of veggies and fruit, whole grains, high fiber and lean protein, like fish. Consume heart healthy fats from plant sources, like olive, canola and peanut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, trout, herring and tuna. Reduce saturated fats from animal sources, like red meat, poultry with the skin and whole fat dairy. Limit sodium by using the salt shaker less and reducing processed and restaurant foods by cooking more at home with sodium-free herbs and spices.
Immune Function: Make sure you are including antioxidant-rich foods in your diet to help boost your immune system and fight diseases like cancer. Antioxidants can help prevent cellular damage to keep cells healthy. Antioxidants are found in lots of deeply colored fruits and vegetables such as berries, cherries, beans, spinach and other leafy greens, red cabbage, tomatoes, and broccoli, to name a few. Green tea, nuts, and dark chocolate (at least 60% dark) are good sources as well.
Gastrointestinal Health: Less activity, lower fluid intake, medications, medical conditions, and slower gastric transit time may all contribute to constipation. Getting adequate fiber in your diet (25-35 grams per day) can help prevent constipation. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains are great sources of fiber. Read your food labels, a serving of food with three grams of fiber per serving is a "good source of fiber." Fiber has many other benefits as well, including lowering cholesterol, helping maintain blood sugar control, and providing a feeling of fullness that helps with weight control. As you increase your fiber intake, be sure to increase your water intake too. It is best to increase fiber intake gradually to minimize gastrointestinal symptoms.
Bones: As you age, calcium absorption and vitamin D production from sunlight diminish. Both are important to maintain bone density. Calcium needs rise from 1000 to 1200mg per day for women over 50 years old and men over 70 years old. Keep drinking milk and eating yogurt and cheese! If you cannot tolerate dairy, which is also more common as you age, get calcium from other sources such as almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines, soy products, fortified cereals and juices. Vitamin D is found in fortified dairy products, oily fish and egg yolks. I recommend a vitamin D supplement to most of my clients, as most of us in this part of the country are vitamin D deficient. Have your level checked! If you use a calcium supplement, make sure it includes vitamin D, or add that yourself because it helps with calcium absorption.
Eye Health: One of the more common changes in the body that occur as we age is changes to our eyes. Macular degeneration, dry eyes and cataracts are fairly common. Lutein and zeaxanthin can protect eye tissues from sun damage and reduce risk of cataracts and macular degeneration and can be found in kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, peas, kiwi, red grapes, oranges and mango. Beta-carotene and vitamin A can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, spinach, collard greens, milk and egg. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can lower the risk of cataracts and can be found in strawberries, bell peppers, citrus, cantaloupe and broccoli. Omega-3's are not only helpful for the heart, but they can help with dry eyes as well. Salmon and other fatty fish, walnuts and chia and flaxseeds contain omega-3's.
Sharp Mind: Boost memory and brain function with good blood flow to the brain. We know that sleep and physical activity are important to combat an aging brain. Some of the foods that can help with cognitive function, memory, mood and alertness include: cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage and kale, berries (especially the dark ones like blueberries and cherries), omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and walnuts.
Your best sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are from whole foods, since it may be a food's combination of nutrients that have a synergistic healing effect. Additionally, some nutrients are better absorbed when combined with others, so a variety of real foods give the best bang for the buck. Supplements can help fill in the gaps, as needed. Always be mindful of interactions between your foods and supplements and the medications you take. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist when beginning a new medication.
Try some of these recipes to enjoy the nutritious foods mentioned above.
Salmon, Asparagus and Orzo Salad
(use whole wheat orzo!)
White Bean Tuna Salad
Asian Quinoa Salad