Updated: May 29, 2020
By Christine Michelle Hamilton
There are many aspects important for maintaining health as we age. Inarguably, good nutrition is one of the most important of these factors. Diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer are linked to diets lacking adequate nutrients and/or having an excess of fat or calories. Good nutritional intake is necessary for managing illness. In addition to prevention of disease there are many benefits to good nutrition including increased energy, improved mood and cognitive function, maintenance of muscle and bone mass and achieving and maintaining an ideal body weight. A nutritious diet is a key factor in ensuring you remain healthy and energetic throughout your life.
The great news is that regardless of where you are currently in your nutrition and health journey, making changes to improve your nutritional intake now can make a difference in your health and wellbeing. Most people are familiar with the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, dairy, and oils. For more information on your suggested intake and details about each food group visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/olderadults. I would also encourage you to share your nutritional goals with your physician and if needed meet with a registered dietitian who can help you reach your dietary goals.
Aside from the general nutritional recommendations, there are additional considerations for different life stages. As adults age, they need fewer total calories, but also need an increase in certain nutrients. These needs can be met by choosing foods that are nutrient-rich. The following is a list of specific nutrients along with good sources and/or suggestions for ensuring adequate nutrient intake.
Calcium helps to maintain bone strength and keep bones and teeth healthy. Older women in particular suffer a higher rate of bone loss after menopause: Calcium can be found in dairy (milks and cheese products), fortified soy and nut milks, tofu, calcium fortified cereals and fruit juices, canned sardines or salmon with bones and some green leafy vegetables such as collard and turnip greens, kale and bok choy.
Vitamin D boosts your immune system, keep your nerves healthy, and helps turn the food you eat into energy: Vitamin D is found naturally in very few foods, but amazingly, is produced in our skin when we absorb sunlight and is found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, beef liver, and egg yolks. Manufacturers fortify it into cow’s milk, soy and nut milks, and sometimes into juices and cereals.
Vitamin B12 is important for creating red blood cells and DNA, and for maintaining healthy nerve function: Meats, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereal provide good sources of B12.
Potassium is vital for cell function, helps reduce high blood pressure and the risk of kidney stones, and keeps bones strong: Potassium is found in fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, citrus, melons, raisins, dates, apricots, cucumbers, cooked spinach and broccoli, peas, mushrooms and potatoes.
Fiber is an important nutrient to ensure a healthy and active digestive tract.: Whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables are fiber full, so be sure to include these regularly in your dietary intake. Choose whole grain products, whenever possible. You might be surprised by how much tastier whole grain pastas, crackers or baked goods are!
Protein is vital for muscle maintenance, immunity, and recovery: Try to include a high protein item with each meal. You can pump up your protein intake by adding protein rich food to your snacks such as seeds, nuts, nut butters, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, plain yogurt or sliced deli meats. Increase the fiber and protein content of many dishes by simply adding canned or frozen beans.
When shopping for groceries, a good suggestion is to buy most of your groceries from the perimeter of the typical grocery store layout. Visit the inside aisles for some pantry staples and whole grains. Most of the processed “junk foods” are found in inside aisles. If you need to lessen the amount of work to prepare meals, already chopped or frozen fruits and veggies are a great convenience.
Choosing to shop only sale/discounted items and using coupons can help with the affordability of groceries. Other tips include first checking the day old rack from the baked goods and looking for the discounted stickers often put on foods in the refrigerated section that need to sell quickly. Bargain grocery stores or outlets and wholesale grocery chains that sell bulk items are often the better option for those needing to maximize their grocery budget. It also is worth noting that many chain stores offering groceries online will deliver to your home or bring items out to your car. These services can be beneficial to those with mobility issues.
Local farmer’s markets and farm stands provide another means of accessing fresh fruits and vegetables. Most markets open in early spring and remain open through late fall.
For a complete list of state-approved markets, visit http://wafarmersmarkets.org/washingtonfarmersmarketdirectory/ .
Senior Nutrition Food Programs by County
Coastal Community Action Program
Jefferson Olympic Community Action Program
Kitsap Meals on Wheels Kitsap
Mason Senior Services for South Sound
Pierce (serves Gig Harbor) Catholic Community Services Meal Sites
Purchasing and preparing nutritious foods is not easy, especially for those on a limited budget or with mobility issues. Fortunately, there are programs that help. The Senior Nutrition Program is available to all adults 60 and older and is available in counties all around the Olympic Peninsula. The location and contact info to find out more about each of these programs is available in the above table. These programs provide a nutritious meal that is designed to meet at least one third of the daily recommendations for nutrients and are served in a communal dining setting. For those who are unable to travel to a meal site due to mobility or health issues, many of these programs also offer home delivery options.
Good nutrition is important to living a healthy, happy life. Older adults ideally need more of certain nutrients as part of a healthy intake. Smart grocery shopping techniques and participating in the Senior Nutrition Program are great ways to reach your nutritional recommendations.
By Christine Michelle Hamilton Registered Dietitian Consultant Meals on Wheels Kitsap