Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve read that a person’s diet should follow their age. At age 63, what should I be doing now, compared to 20 years ago? —A Good Eater
Dear Good Eater,
Just as our body changes as we age, so too should our diet. Research tells us that as the years pile up, we need to consume fewer calories but more nutrients — and that’s not always easy to do.
It’s important to note that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” or “age-specific” diet out there. Your weight, gender, activity level, health status and age should all be factored into what you eat. At www.mypyramid.gov you can develop your own healthy eating plan by plugging in your personal information into their online tools. But in the mean time, here are some dietary tips that all seniors should know.
Eat Fewer Calories
As we age, we tend to be less active, our bodies lose muscle and our metabolism slows. As a result, we need fewer and fewer calories in order to maintain our weight. It’s estimated that our calorie requirements drop by as much as 20 percent between the ages of 20 and 60.
Focus on Fiber
A fiber-rich diet can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems like constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome — all problems that are usually linked to aging. To get the recommended daily fiber (21 grams for women, 30 grams for men — over age 50), eat lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lots of beans and legumes.
Hope You Like Fish!
Boost your omega-3 fatty acids by eating fatty fish (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, salmon and albacore tuna) a few times a week. Omega-3s help reduce inflammation and hypertension, decrease triglycerides, raise HDL (good) cholesterol and can even help with dementia. If you aren’t a fish eater, other food sources that provide omega-3s are walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed and canola oil, or fish oil supplements.
Boost Your Calcium
Women, in particular, need more calcium as they age (at least 1,200 milligrams a day). After menopause, women lose bone density as a result of hormonal changes, which puts them at risk of osteoporosis. Work on your calcium intake by consuming more fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. White beans, broccoli and almonds will also help. And talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
Don’t Forget Vitamin D
You also need to watch your vitamin D intake which is critical to the absorption of calcium. To increase your intake try consuming more fortified milk, cereals and egg yolks and try soaking in a little sunlight each day. And everyone over 50 should take a daily vitamin that contains at least 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D. After age 70, you need to bump it up to at least 600 IU per day.
Another side effect of getting older is a tendency to absorb less vitamin B12, which can lead to anemia and make you feel weak and tired. Because aging can lead to low stomach acid, which interferes with absorption of the nutrient through food, a supplement might be necessary.
As we get older, we may have a harder time recognizing that we’re in need of fluids. So drink up even when you’re not thirsty, particularly during the summer months. Food that’s high in water content, such as lettuce, vegetable juice and soup, is also a smart choice.
Savvy Tip: The National Institutes of Health also offers some healthy eating and shopping tips in their Senior Health section at www.nihseniorhealth.gov — click on “E” then on “Eating Well as You Get Older.”