Health & Wellness

Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging

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Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can be difficult at any age.

Remember the 10 pounds you gained as a freshman in college? The baby weight that refused to budge?

But as we move into our 50s, 60s and beyond, we face new challenges.  For one thing, our metabolism--the rate at which we burn calories—slows down because we lose muscle mass. [1] [2] That means that if we eat the same quantities of food at age 60 that we did at 30, we may put on a few pounds.

Meanwhile, the number of taste buds you have decreases as you age, and your sense of smell can also diminish, which means foods you’ve always loved may now seem bland. [3] Some medications, including pills to lower cholesterol and blood pressure may also change how food tastes. [4] When eating becomes less pleasurable, we may find ourselves dousing our food with salt and sugar, which can make health conditions like high blood pressure worse.

Here’s a simple recipe for healthier eating:

  • Change it up. Varied colors, textures, and spices can help make food more interesting according to the National Institute of Aging. [4] Try eating brightly hued vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and tomatoes. Add texture and crunch with cheese and nuts, zing with herbs, spices and condiments, and brightness with a squirt of lemon or lime juice. Experiment with new flavors, from fresh or dried sage, thyme, turmeric and rosemary to different kinds of mustards, salsas and peppers. [4]
  • Try new grains. For a healthy diet, half of your grains should be whole grains. If whole grain breads and cereals are already daily staples, try some less familiar ones, like freekeh, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa and whole-wheat couscous. They’re great as side dishes or as additions to salads and soups. 
  • Monitor your meals: Build a customized nutrition plan with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Supertracker website. Just answer a few simple questions, enter your personal goals, and a diet plan will instantly be generated. Then, you can enter your meals in the “Food Tracker” to keep a tally on how you’re doing. The website also features a food journal, physical activity trackers, sample meal plans and more. 
  • Keep portion sizes in check: Get to know healthy portion sizes so you can see how the food on your plate measures up. Some guidelines from the National Institute on Aging’s Healthy Eating After 50 report: three ounces of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards; a half cup of fruit, rice or pasta is equal to half a baseball; a whole baseball is the size of a cup of salad greens. Visualize four dice when you’re aiming for an ounce and a half of cheese; the tip of your first finger when you’re measuring a teaspoon of butter, and a ping-pong ball when you’re spreading two tablespoons of peanut butter on your whole-wheat bread. [5]

How have you changed your eating habits as you’ve gotten older?

References:

 1. Four Metabolism Myths and Facts; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

2. Aging, Basal Metabolic Rate, and Nutrition; Nihon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi. 1993 Jul;30(7):572-6.

3. Aging Changes in the Senses, U.S. National Library of Medicine

4. Smell and Taste: Spice of Life, National Institute on Aging.

5.  Healthy Eating After 50, National Institute on Aging. 

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