I’ve always had a fairly healthy diet, but I never was perfect. But since going through menopause and seeing the changes happening in my aging body - Tiny cataracts forming Bruising! - I realize that I can’t take anything for granted any more. That means every woman who is going through or has gone through "The Change" (including me) needs to take a long, hard look at our diet and make some critical adjustments, if necessary.
“Healthful eating plays a large role in aging well,” said Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. “For seniors, it is particularly important to stay well-hydrated with water and choose a variety of foods from all five foods groups to help your body get the nutrients it needs, especially calcium and vitamin D, fiber, B12, potassium and better-for-you fats.” So what’s the deal with those specific nutrients and fats?
Calcium and Vitamin D
As we reach middle-age (and beyond), women need to consume more calcium and vitamin D to maintain our bone health. Calcium-rich foods include vitamin D-fortified low-fat milk, vitamin-D fortified fat-free milk, yogurt, fortified cereals, fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish with soft bones. And if you opt to take a calcium supplement or multi-vitamin, be sure that it includes vitamin D.
This is one of the vitamins that we often don’t get enough of when we reach 50 and beyond. This particular vitamin helps the body’s nerve and blood cells remain healthy and helps make DNA. This vitamin also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in beef liver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products. Furthermore, some foods - such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts - have been fortified with this vitamin. "People over 50 should get most of their vitamin B12 from fortified foods or dietary supplements because, in most cases, their bodies can absorb vitamin B12 from these sources," stated the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.
Eating more fiber-rich foods can help you lower your risk for heart disease, control weight, prevent type 2 diabetes, and avoid constipation. Fiber can be found in whole-grain breads, cereals, beans, peas, as well as fruits and vegetables.
You can lower your risk of high blood pressure if you increase the amount of potassium you consume while also lowering your sodium intake. Good sources of potassium include fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, fat-free milk and yogurt.
By opting for these types of fats (which are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats), you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Avoid as much as possible foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Instead, embrace olive oil, grape seed oil, avocadoes and nuts.
So how can you easily make these shifts in your eating patterns? The Academy recommends making five important changes to your diet as you age:
- Make sure that your plate is filled half-way with colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal. Try to make sure you eat richly colored green, purple, orange, yellow and red produce. You can opt for fresh and frozen. And canned fruits and vegetables also can work well as long as you’re careful about the sodium content.
- Vary the types of proteins you eat. Focus on lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, peas and legumes.
- Consume at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains daily. These can be whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice.
- Use healthier unsaturated fats whenever possible instead of solid, saturated fats (butter, bacon and sour cream). The healthier options include olive oil, canola oil, grape seed oil, avocados, pistachios, almonds and walnuts.
- Eat at least three servings of low-fat dairy that’s fortified with vitamin D. Good sources include low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2013). Nutrient needs change with age: Eat right throughout life for optimal health, says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2012). Special nutrient needs of older adults.
Office of Dietary Supplements. (nd). Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.