Article submitted by Bobbi Nelson, Nutritionist on behalf of San Diego Oasis
Healthy foods can strengthen our immune systems to prevent and manage disease. As we age, there are several components that we should pay attention to for optimal health: hydration, macronutrients (the balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats), micronutrients (especially calcium, sodium, vitamin D and the B vitamins) and fiber.
Hydration is very important and most Americans do not drink enough non-sugar sweetened beverages. Men should drink 13 cups of water and women should drink 9 cups of water per day. Try jazzing it up with slices of citrus fruits, cucumber, melon balls, or herbs like basil or mint.
Although the average American eats 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, the American Heart Association recommends that men limit their daily sugar intake to 9 teaspoons while women stick to 6 teaspoons. One way to cut back on sugar is to use more spices in foods and beverages. Try cinnamon in your coffee and fruits in your baked goods.
Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates and fats: Older adults should have 1 gram of protein per kilogram of weight, which equates to your weight in pounds multiplied by 0.45. Some good vegetarian sources of protein include hummus, beans, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.
Just like a car needs oil, your body needs fat to lubricate your system. But just like a car, you have to give it the right kind of lubricant and in the right amount. Good fats are those that are easy to break down: unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature like oils. Omega-3 fats, found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, can lower your risk for heart disease, increase brain function, decrease depression and anxiety and ease joint stiffness and pain.
The one type of fat that should be avoided are trans-, or hydrogentated, fats. These fats are chemically altered oils that are modified to be solid at room temperature and to extend the shelf life of processed foods. Trans-fats are directly linked to the hardening of the arteries.
There are several micronutrients which become more important to monitor as we age. Calcium and vitamin D help with bone maintenance and B vitamins are involved with nerve functions and metabolism. Some good sources are white beans, canned salmon and sardines with their bones, kale, fortified cereals and fortified non-dairy beverages such as soy, rice or almond milks.
Calcium needs vitamin D in order to be utilized in the body. Adequate vitamin D is not usually attainable through foods, and supplements may be needed. B vitamins are found in fortified cereals, dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and legumes. The exception is B12, which can be found in shellfish, fin fish and beef.
Soluble fiber, found in apples, oranges, legumes and oats, provides fuel for the bacteria in our intestines to help with regular bowel movement and removes cholesterol from our bodies. Daily recommendations are for men to eat 38 grams of fiber and for women to eat 25 grams of fiber.
If you want to make one change in your diet today, start by increasing the number and variety of fresh or frozen vegetables in your diet. Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber and they can fill you up which may cut down on your intake of processed foods that usually have more sugar, salt and/or fat than recommended. Imagine yourself eating the rainbow with yellow bell peppers, orange squash, red tomatoes, green spinach, blue potatoes and purple pickled beets. What a feast for both your eyes and for your health!
If you are interested in learning more about aging well, San Diego Oasis offers a variety of classes, including those listed below focused on nutrition.
Learn more and register at www.sandiegooasis.org.