Maintaining Weight and Health As we Age
by Lori Larson, CSA
As everyone over the age of 50 has had to learn, it becomes a challenge to maintain a healthy weight and in doing so, continuing to get all the nutrients we need with fewer calories. For many older people, they become too thin or too heavy. In the first case because they aren’t getting enough food and in the other because they are getting too much of the wrong food. This is becoming a real problem for older adults. They are becoming malnourished. A study by HealthDay News found more than half of American seniors seen at emergency departments are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.
Why is this a problem?
First, as we age, we have more body fat than lean muscle so we use fewer calories. This means we need to take in fewer calories. Next, is that while we retain our sense of taste for sweets, we lose it for salt, sour and bitter. So food just doesn’t taste the same and we will tend to eat more high sugar foods which are high calorie with no nutrients. Finally, medications and digestive issues interfere with how our bodies process the foods we eat causing us to change our eating patterns at a time when we need to pay closer attention to what we eat.
How many calories do we need?
The National Institute of Health provides guidelines for how many calories an older adult should consume:
A woman over 50 should consume daily:
- 1600 calories with low physical activity; typical day to day life activities
- 1800 calories if moderately active; walks 1 ½ – 3 miles/day at 3-4 mph
- 2000 – 2200 if a very active lifestyle; walks more than 3 miles/day at 3-4 mph
A man over age 50 should consume daily:
- 2000 – 2200 calories with low physical activity: typical day to day life
- 2200 – 2400 calories with moderate activity; walk 1 ½ – 3 miles/day at 3 – 4 mph
- 2400 – 2800 calories with active life style: walks more than 3 miles/day at 3 -4 mph
The most important thing however is to consume the right calories.
What should we eat?
With age, it becomes more important that diets contain a sufficient amount of calcium, fiber, iron, protein and vitamins A, C, D and folic acid. Because no one food or pill provides all of the nutrients, it’s best to eat a variety of foods to get the full spectrum of nutrients.
Vegetables, Fruits and Grains
Vegetables, fruits and grains offer important vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy. Most of these foods have little fat and no cholesterol. They are also a source of fiber, which can help with digestion and constipation, and may lower cholesterol and blood sugar. In addition, vegetables, fruits and grains contain antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, which can protect cells in the body from the damage caused by oxidation. Antioxidants are thought to promote health and to possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers and other diseases.
Vegetables. Healthy choices include broccoli, spinach, turnip and collard greens, as well as other dark, leafy greens. Aim for lots of color on your plate as a way to get a variety of vegetables each day—for example, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red peppers or winter squash.
Fruit. To make sure you get the benefit of the natural fiber in fruits, choose whole or cut-up fruits. Choose fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits and go easy on fruit juices.
Grains: Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Approximately one ounce of grain foods counts as a serving. This is about one slice of bread, roll or small muffin. It also equals about one cup of dry flaked cereal or a half-cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal. Other whole grains include popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur and quinoa.
Protein helps build and maintain muscle and skin. As we age, protein absorption decreases, and our bodies may make less protein.
Sources of protein include meats, seafood, beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu. When buying meats, which also provide B vitamins, iron and zinc, choose lean cuts or low-fat products, because they provide less total fat, less saturated fat and fewer calories than products with more fat.
Beans, including pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils, tend to be low or lower in saturated fats, and provide fiber. Another source of protein is nuts and seeds
Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium a day. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, provide calcium and vitamin D to help maintain strong bones, as well as protein, potassium, vitamin A and magnesium.
Your body needs some fats for energy and for healthy organs, skin and hair. Fats also help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K and provide essential fatty acids, which your body cannot make on its own.
On the other hand, fat contains more than twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrates, and increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problems, so you should aim to limit fats to 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories.
The best fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, canola, olive, safflower and sunflower. Polyunsaturated fat is also in nuts, seeds and fish. The worst kinds are saturated fats and trans fats, which increase the risk for heart disease. You should consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats, which are found in red meat, milk products, including butter and palm, and coconut oils. Common sources include regular cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts such as cookies, cakes and donuts, and dairy desserts, such as ice cream.
Does all this seem Overwhelming?
There are sources to help you sort this out.
- Learn to red the nutrition labels on all processed foods. The percentage of Daily Value is based on a 2000 calorie per day diet.
- Read Tufts University “My Plate for Older Adults”. Provides simple solutions.
- Buy nutritious pre-made meals from your grocery store or Let’s Dish.
- Hire a cook a few times a week that will make a week’s worth of meals.
- Consider moving to a Senior Community where meals are provided.
If you want help sorting out your options. Give us a call at Choice Connections today!