Health Column: October 11, 2007

By Leslie McAmis, RD

Blount Memorial

Good nutrition plays an important role in how you age. Consuming a diet that is low in salt and fat with lots of fruits, vegetables and fiber can reduce your chances of getting sick. Your nutrition needs change as you get older, and eating well can be challenging.

Protein is a part of all living cells. Wise protein choices should be made and need to include low-fat sources that include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs or egg substitutes, soy, nuts, beans, peas, seeds and dairy products.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. More-complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits and whole-wheat grains should be selected. Fewer simple carbohydrates -- such as sucrose or sugar added to sweets and desserts -- should be eaten.

Fats also provide your body with energy. Chose “heart-healthy fats” such as monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados and nuts instead of “bad” saturated fats that are provided in beef, pork, milk, butter, stick margarine, shortening and cheese. “Good” polyunsaturated fats that are contained in liquid corn oil or soybean oil should be included in a healthy diet. Limit the worst fats -- trans fats -- that can be found in vegetable shortening, some margarines (especially stick margarines), commercially prepared crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, salad dressings and other processed foods. Try to replace fat calories with complex carbohydrates in your diet.

Eating high fiber foods helps prevent constipation. Fiber also helps prevent diabetes, lower your risk for heart disease and control your weight. Whole-grain foods can help meet your fiber needs. Good whole-grain choices include 100 percent whole-wheat bread, bran cereal and whole-wheat pastas. More fiber can be added by eating dry beans and peas, as well as many other vegetables and fruits. These foods should be added slowly to your diet to prevent bloating and gas.

Water keeps the body hydrated and must be replaced daily. The human body is made up mostly of water. Because aging can cause the kidneys to become less efficient, it’s very important to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily and drink even more when it’s hot weather or you are active enough to sweat.

Maintaining a healthy body weight also is important. Your body’s daily calorie needs slowly decrease with age, meaning you need fewer calories per day than when you were younger. This means that you need adequate protein, less fat in your diet and increased physical activity. On the other hand, it is unhealthy to be underweight. If you need to gain weight, eat larger portions of high-calorie foods and have frequent snacks.

As you age, your bones lose mineral content more quickly than before. This is especially true if you are a postmenopausal woman. You need adequate daily calcium to help prevent osteoporosis. You can get most of the calcium required by having three cups of milk, yogurt or cheese daily. Other sources of calcium include calcium-fortified juices and breads, cereals, canned salmon and sardines, and green leafy vegetables.

Leslie McAmis is a registered dietitian at the Blount Memorial Transitional Care Center at MorningView Village.

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