While most nutritional guidance is ageless, we need to make some adjustments to fit the changing needs of our aging bodies.
If you are eating the way you did in your 30s and 40s, it is time for your diet to act its age.
While advice on nutrition can seem complicated, you don’t need to do everything at once. Read the list below and pick out one change you would like to make. It’s all a matter of more — and less.
What’s on your plate?
Tufts University introduced a MyPlate for older adults. The Tufts plate recommends our plates contain 50 percent fruits and vegetables; 25 percent grains, mostly whole; and 25 percent protein-rich foods such as nuts, beans, fish, lean meat, poultry and low-fat dairy.
For fun, divide your plate into those three groups. If you are like many older people, you need more fruits and vegetables and less red meat. More and less makes all the difference. Below are some other strategies for improving your nutrition.
Any sugar we do not use for energy shows up on our waistlines. The recommended amount of added sugar per day is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men. Most of us get more than three times this amount. Less here means a lot less.
And sugar by another other name (it has about 50) still adds empty calories. An 8-ounce container of fruit-flavored yogurt can easily contain 7 teaspoons of sugar. Twelve ounces of soda or sweetened tea? Twelve teaspoons.
Overindulging in sugary foods is easy. So carefully read food labels to find the hidden sugar. Rinse heavy syrup fruits to remove some sugar. Select more naturally sweet foods such as fruits and yams.
Taste and smell diminish with age. As a result, we salt our food more heavily even though we need less.
The recommended amount for older adults is only 1,500 mg (2/3 teaspoon). Most of us triple that amount.
Canned and packaged soups are usually very high in sodium, as are sauces, processed meats and other processed foods.
Reach for the spice jar and use a variety of herbs and spices to enhance flavors and reduce the need to add salt. Rinsing canned foods such as beans can reduce salt by one-third.
As we age, it can be harder to get key nutrients. Our bodies and lifestyles have changed or our nutritional needs have increased with age. Here are a few examples:
•Vitamin B12: Due to lower levels of stomach acid, we cannot extract as much Vitamin B12 from our food. Vitamin B12-fortified foods, such as cereal, are already in free form the body can use. The recommended daily intake is 2.4 mcg. This vitamin is in fish, shellfish, meat, eggs and dairy but not plant foods.
•Vitamin D: We lose some of our ability to make Vitamin D from sunshine, and we tend to spend less time in the sun. The recommended amount of daily vitamin D is 800 to 1,000 IU.
•Calcium: Get as much calcium from dietary sources, such as low-fat dairy, as possible. Recommended calcium is 1,200 mg daily.
•Fiber: Hardly anyone, no matter our age, gets the recommended amount of fiber. Like other body systems, our GI tract no longer functions as efficiently. This is another reason to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Women need at least 21 grams of fiber a day and men need 30 grams. Eat pears and apples with the skin on. Raspberries, blackberries, kiwi and avocados are high in fiber.
Our sense of thirst diminishes with age, so we need to pay attention to getting enough water and other healthful fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration sends many older adults to the ER.
The guideline is to drink 1 ounce of healthful fluids each day for every 2 pounds of body weight. Put a note on your refrigerator to sip every hour and drink with meals.
Metabolism slows after 40. If we continue to eat the same amount, we are likely to gain weight because we are burning fewer calories. Also, we may be less active.After 30, we slowly begin to lose muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass is the primary reason for the loss of mobility, which we all fear.
The Brown County YMCA offers several classes appropriate for seniors. My husband and I take Tabata and enjoy it very much. Silver Sneakers is another popular class at the Y.
Few of us are likely to do all of this at once. Changing habits is especially tough for those of us who are set in our ways.
But each of us can make one small change that we can continue throughout our lives. Add another small change each week. Or every month.
These changes matter — more and less.
Doreen W. St.Clair is professor emeritus at Franklin College. She is currently chair of the Wellness Committee and a tobacco educator for Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County. She exercises regularly at the Brown County Y.