Ask St. Ann’s – How Do Our Dietary Needs Change As We Age?

By Dr. Kim Petrone

Good nutrition is important at any stage of life. A healthy, balanced diet provides our bodies with the nutrients we need to function, grow and heal properly.

But as we age, healthy eating takes on new importance. Our bodies become less efficient at absorbing and using vitamins and minerals. At the same time our appetites may decrease, meaning we take in less of what our bodies need. That’s why, as we get older, we need to be vigilant in making sure the foods we eat are nutritious and healthy.

The National Council on Aging offers these tips to help you find the best foods for your body:

1. Look for important nutrients.

Make sure you eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. A healthy meal should include:

• Lean protein (lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans)
• Fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
• Low-fat dairy

Pick nutrient-dense foods — they provide more nutrition with less calories. For example, roasted skinless chicken breast vs. chicken wings, an apple vs. slice of apple pie. Also, look for calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, minerals, and dietary fiber, which our bodies need as we age.

2. Read the Nutrition Facts label.

The healthiest foods are whole foods — those that have been processed or refined as little as possible and are free from additives or other artificial ingredients. These are often found on the perimeter of the grocery store in the produce, meat and dairy sections. When you do eat packaged foods, read the labels to find items that are lower in fat, added sugars and sodium (salt).

3. Know what a healthy plate looks like.

Start with a few of these small changes to create a healthy plate:

• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Focus on whole fruits and a variety of vegetables.
• Make half your grains whole grains.
• Move to low-fat and fat-free dairy items.
• Vary your protein routine. (5-7 oz. per day is ideal.) Vary your protein choices between meats, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans and lentils.

The USDA offers guidelines and tips for healthy eating at It’s a helpful resource for meeting your calorie and nutrient needs.

4. Stay hydrated

Water is an important nutrient, so don’t let yourself get dehydrated. Drink small amounts of fluids consistently throughout the day. Herbal tea and water are your best choices. Keep fluids with sugar and caffeine at a minimum.

Good Diet = Maximum Benefits

Giving your body the right nutrients can help you stay healthy, independent and maintain a healthy weight. You’ll also reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. If you have a chronic disease, eating well can help to manage the disease.

And by choosing the healthy foods you like best, it can be enjoyable too! That’s important in developing a routine of eating right and getting the most from your diet.

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