Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Why does food matter so much?
Marie Dershem, MSW – Social Worker, Porter Hills Home Care
Click here to watch the WZZM13 Senior Wellness Segment on this topic.
Nutrition plays a huge role in our overall health throughout our lifespan that is often overlooked, especially as we age. As we get older, our appetites, caloric needs, and tastes change. In addition, we often face new health challenges. Nutrition plays a very important role as we adjust to these changes and challenges.
Why does food matter so much? Good nutrition, which involves a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, serves several important purposes.
Good nutrition helps us:
- maintain consistent and strong energy throughout the day
- recover more quickly from illnesses
- prevent short-term and chronic illnesses
As we age, it is very important that we really pay attention how we are feeding our bodies. Older adults have specific nutritional needs that may be more difficult to meet due to a decrease in appetite and caloric needs. So, what do we really need to pay attention to?
Older adult’s nutritional needs include:
- increased need for protein (1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight)
- need for fewer calories but more nutrients (more nutrient-dense foods)
- monitoring fluid intake to reduce the chances of dehydration
- most of the time reduce sodium intake is recommended
- limited amount of processed sugar
Let’s take a closer look at those needs. Why do older adults need more protein? As we age, our muscle mass decreases. This means that in order to maintain or slow this decline in muscle mass, we need to consume more protein. In addition, anytime we face illness or injury, more protein is needed to help repair our bodies, from the cellular level all the way to rebuilding our skeletomuscular system.
What are nutritionally dense foods? Think color. Colorful fruits and vegetables are loaded with necessary vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. From leafy green vegetables, to bright red beets, fill your plate with a rainbow of color. Other nutritionally dense foods include nuts and legumes; loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber, these foods fuel our bodies and keep them functioning at an optimal level.
Making sure to stay hydrated with adequate fluid intake is a necessity for good health and functioning. Making sure to limit salt intake is also important, especially because our taste buds decrease in sensitivity as we age. This may cause us to lean toward adding more salt to our foods. Just be aware that a low-sodium diet includes up to about a teaspoon of salt per day, or about 2300mg. Finally, limiting processed sugar is very important. Sugar is an inflammatory food, meaning that when you eat too much of it, it increases inflammation throughout the body. If you struggle with achy joints, headaches, sore muscles, or digestive issues, reduce the amount of processed sugar you consume. Processed sugar is any added sugar. Sugars that occur naturally in foods, such as fruits, are healthy and do not need to be reduced.
Good nutrition can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if we are trying to make diet changes to enhance health and prevent disease or illness. Here are some easy tips that can help get you started
Four tips to get you started toward meeting your nutritional needs:
- Over the course of the day, ¾ of your food should come from whole, fresh vegetables, fruits, legume, nuts seeds and grains. These foods are nutrient dense (loaded with nutrients your body needs), low-calorie, and high fiber foods.
- Make your snacks count – put down the potato chips and grab a handful of almonds or a fresh fruit.
- Use a cup with a straw if you know you need more fluids
- Grab your blender and whip up a nutrient-dense smoothie. Add a cup of frozen fruit, a handful of fresh spinach, some Greek yogurt (plain), and blend. Add water to get it to the consistency that you enjoy.
Remember, always limit the amount of processed foods you consume. What does this mean? First, do most of your grocery shopping in the produce section. Then, look for foods with 5 or less ingredients on the label. If there are more than 5, make sure you know what the ingredients are… and you can pronounce them.
USDA My Plate for Older Adults