Maintaining overall nutrition as you get older

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It’s no secret nutritional needs can change with age. There are some tried-and-true dietary strategies to keep yourself healthy as you get older, but new information continues to emerge. Staying on top of the latest research can help you find the right way to stay healthy.

Nutritional adaptations as you age aren’t super-drastic, but as your body changes, modifying what you eat can make a difference.

“It’s about less overall energy needs and higher quality nutrient needs,” Christina Ellenberg, MS, RD, LDN, CSCS, owner of Dietitian Dish in Atlanta, told the AJC.

This means thinking of ways to make small changes to what you eat already rather than reinventing your diet.

“You don’t have to completely change your meals,” Ellenberg said.

Ellenberg suggests avoiding “empty calorie” foods as much as possible by indulging in smaller portions of those foodsand eating them after you’ve consumed the protein and/or fiber on your plate.

“All calories aren’t equal,” Ellenberg said.

Adapting your diet

There is no “one size fits all” way to eat according to Safa Nooromid, RD, LD of Nooromid Nutrition Consulting Group in Atlanta. The nutrients you need are dependent on factors like age, health and medications.

She stresses the shift from caloric needs to nutritional needs as you get older because of changes in metabolism, bone and muscle mass, and body composition.

“Go for higher nutrition and lower calorie,” Nooromid told the AJC.

What this often translates to is watching your sodium and fat intake more closely and drinking less alcohol. Cutting down on sugar, saturated fat, processed meat, refined carbs, and fried food is also a good rule of thumb.

What should go onto your plate is calcium-rich foods like cheese and Greek yogurt, foods high in antioxidants like kale and almonds, and foods that contain polyphenols like salmon and berries. It’s also important to remember there are good fats out there like nuts and avocados. These foods can help with joint health and cellular development and even make it easier for your body to absorb certain vitamins.

Overall though, adjusting your diet is about understanding what you need to feel healthy.

“This is about tuning into what your body is feeling; what’s driving your hunger,” Ellenberg said.

Listen to what your body tells you when it’s hungry to help you decide what healthy food options to eat.

“You don’t need as many nutrients, but you shouldn’t ignore hunger cues,” Ellenberg said.

The role of supplements

Along with modifications to what you eat, many people also consider taking supplements. It’s a more recent trend to introduce them into a balanced nutritional plan, but Ellenberg and Nooromid suggest you approach taking supplements with caution.

“Know your numbers,” Nooromid said when the topic of supplements came up. This refers to the importance of getting blood work done first and consulting with a medical professional to decide what supplements you should take.

Although it’s not uncommon to see people with Vitamin D, iron, B12, and calcium deficiencies, reviewing your metabolic health with your doctor first ensures you’re using supplements correctly.

“I take a food-first mentality over taking supplements all day,” Ellenberg said.

The results of your bloodwork can show you other areas where supplements can benefit too. For example, if lab work shows high cholesterol, you may want to talk to your doctor about adding a CQ10 supplement to your diet.

What’s new in senior nutrition

Refining your diet and exploring supplements are two tried and true ways to manage your nutritional health as you age, but research comes out all the time. It’s worth keeping up with what’s new.

“Nutrition is always evolving, but medical professionals are the best source for crafting a diet that’s safe for you,” Nooromid said.

She stresses looking at research over what’s trending on social media and avoiding any social media fads.

You should also keep in mind that nutritional health is an ever-changing science, and if you find it challenging to keep up with new information, there’s one strategy that always works.

“Think of sustainable practices you can maintain that keep your body fueled for aging,” Ellenberg said. “It’s really just about eating frequently, eating until you’re satisfied and getting the nutrients you need.”

To enhance this basic approach to eating, Nooromid often recommends that people make mealtime a pleasant experience, not something that feels robotic. She suggests cooking with colorful foods, playing music, and adding herbs and spices to dishes.

“Eat meals at regular times with friends and family,” Nooromid said.

Food trends will come and go, but focusing on changes you’re comfortable making, and can maintain for the long term, can turn out to be the best tip for maintaining nutritional health.