Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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Tips for aging well: Nutrition

This article is originally from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing‘s Spring 2013 Healing Journal.

When it comes to aging and its effects on your body, everyone is different.

According to licensed nutritionist Carolyn Denton, MA, LN, there are general things that tend to happen as we grow older and pass through the decades, but one thing is certain: it’s never too late, or too early, to start eating better.

“The human body is built to last,” said Denton. “As we age, our digestive system may slow down a bit, we may lose some lean body mass and may suffer from insulin resistance.”

With nutrition, the recommendations don’t change much through life’s stages: get plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. The loss of body mass and lean tissue does usually translate into a lower metabolic rate. So, the number of calories you need to maintain or lose weight will be reduced and we have a tendency to gain weight more quickly if we take in more calories than our bodies require. Denton notes that once women go through menopause, they often notice a big difference in their resting metabolic rate.

To combat the reduced amount of calories our bodies need, we need to reduce the calories
and increase exercise. It may sound simple, but it is often challenging.

At different stages of life, a busy work schedule, family commitments or more time spent alone, may affect how you eat. “This may lead to skipped meals or not getting enough variety of foods that people need for good nutrition,” said Denton. For example, people may decide to repeatedly have a bowl of cereal for dinner. To help, she suggests cooking ahead and freezing meals for future use.

Tips for eating healthy as we age
Think plants. There is no substitute. Plants contain so many vitamins, nutrients, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber and complex carbohydrates that it is impossible to replicate the benefits of food from plants with supplements or highly processed foods. We hear it all the time, but it’s worth repeating: eat your fruits and vegetables.

Make every calorie count. Smaller portions of nutrient-dense foods are important as we age. When we eat foods that are high in nutrients compared to calorie count, we are ensuring that we get the nutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning at their full potential. A diet made up primarily of vegetables and legumes prepared with healthy fats, herbs and spices is a good place to start.

Stay hydrated. As we age, we may not notice as quickly when we become dehydrated. Of all nutrients, water is the most important. Water reduces stress on the kidneys, making those organs function properly. It also helps with digestion and helps to reduce blood clots. Dehydration is so dangerous that it may lead to stroke. The importance of water in our diet should not be underestimated.

Think of the diet as a work of art. To describe a work of art, one may describe its color, texture and balance, along with variety, proportion and accessibility. You could view your diet in the same way. Aim for variety in color, texture and balance. Spending time planning and preparing for meals is important and will pay benefits as you age.

It is possible to eat healthy on a budget. It requires a little preparation and creativity, but there are many healthy foods that are inexpensive. Buy dried legumes and invest the time in soaking, straining and then cooking them. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a nutritious alternative to fresh. Homemade stocks are inexpensive to make by using peels and ends from other vegetables you prepare. Just freeze them for the time you are ready to make a stock and throw them in the pot.

Try some neglected foods. Celery, which is usually left over on the relish tray once all of the other vegetables are eaten, is one of the most powerful detoxifying foods available. Certain foods are known for healthy properties. Weave them into your diet. What you didn’t like when you were younger may taste delicious to you now. Some examples of things to try: leeks, garlic, scallions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beets, kale, eggplant, bok choy, endive and more.

Vitamins have a purpose, but it’s impossible to replicate real food. Supplements have a purpose if someone is low in certain areas such as calcium, zinc or magnesium. Low magnesium levels, for example, will cause muscle spasms. Supplements should be used as a bridge and support for a healthy diet, not a replacement.

To make an appointment with Denton, call 612-863-3333.

Carolyn Denton is a licensed nutritionist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.