We’ve all heard the expression “you are what you eat.” Every food choice you make plays an important part in the state of your health and the way you age. Dietary habits contribute to how efficiently the body systems operate. Like any operating system, the ability to work smoothly and properly is the goal. A healthy diet is a critical factor in achieving that goal.
Eating right and staying fit are important, no matter what your age. As we get older, our bodies have different needs, so certain nutrients become especially important for good health. After age 50, when the body’s ability to absorb vitamins from food starts to diminish, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have serious consequences.
A healthy diet is one of our most important tools for preventive health care. If we eat the right food, good health is likely to follow. Eating a healthy diet contributes to our overall wellbeing, fuels energy, and promotes mental alertness. It helps to regulate our blood pressure and blood sugar, bolsters the immune system, and can help prevent the deterioration of cognitive function and vision.
Poor eating habits have been linked to many illnesses and health conditions that affect us as we age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, which are among the most common diseases affecting older persons, are all affected by diet.
Eating a diet high in saturated fats has been associated with cancer of the colon, pancreas, and prostate. Disease risk factors such as increased blood pressure, blood lipids, and glucose intolerance are directly affected by dietary factors and play a significant role in the development of coronary heart disease.
The good news is that you can improve your health through your daily food intake. This means eating a diet that hits the ‘quality nutrition’ mark, with meals that balance fiber, healthy fats, carbohydrates, protein, calories, and the harder-to-assess invisible ingredients, vitamins and minerals.
Research by the WHO shows that dietary changes affect risk-factor levels throughout life and may have an even greater impact on older people. Reducing saturated fat and salt intake, which reduces blood pressure and cholesterol concentrations, could have a substantial effect on reducing cardiovascular disease. Increasing fruit and vegetables from one to two servings daily could cut cardiovascular risk by 30%.
Now that you know how food can help you stay healthy, consider the following guidelines to help you make nutritious choices:
Stock the fridge and pantry
For the best nutrition, choose fresh foods with minimal processing whenever possible. On your list:
Lean meats, fish, eggs, beans and nuts;
Fresh or frozen produce in a rainbow of colors;
Canned produce packed in juice or water (avoid anything packed in heavy syrup);
Dairy products such as plain yogurt, kefir, skim milk, cream, and low-fat cheese;
Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, oats, black or brown rice, and millet;
100 percent whole wheat or whole grain bread; and
‘Good’ fats/oils - these include olive oil, safflower, avocado, canola, fish oil, and nuts
Baked goods made with refined flour;
Soft drinks, juices, and high-sugar foods; and
Unhealthy fats such as animal fat, cheese, butter, lard, stick or tub margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated oils/trans fats.
Review dietary guidelines:
Check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov/. The information on this website comes from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture every five years. The guidelines can help you make healthy choices that can reduce your chances of getting some diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.
Look at some healthy eating plans. The USDA Food Patterns and the DASH Eating Plan can help you figure out how much of each food group (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats) you should eat each day.