Nutrition Needs in the Golden Years

Many a proverb has been dedicated to how our attitudes and expectations evolve as we pass through life’s seasons, but far less has been written about how our nutrition needs change as we enter the golden years.

As we age, we need fewer calories – about 10 percent less per decade from age 50 onward – but not necessarily fewer nutrients. With our bodies’ own natural antioxidant systems losing steam, we need to increase our intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cranberries and dried plums.

Because of this calorie-nutrient paradox, it’s more important than ever to choose foods with care, opting for a nutrient-dense diet and avoiding empty-calorie snacks. Fiber, for example, is a macronutrient that too many seniors get too little of. In addition to lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol, fiber helps improve regularity at a time when gastrointestinal distress may become an issue. Top sources of healthy fiber include navy beans, oats, raspberries, oranges and green peas.

Protein is another macronutrient elders need but 60 percent fail to consume in adequate amounts. The body’s ability to absorb vitamin B-12 declines with age, and salmon is a great choice as a two-for-one protein and vitamin B-12 source. As a bonus, salmon, sardines, albacore and flounder are good sources of omega-3 “healthy” fats that help boost memory power.

Another nutrient for your noggin is niacin. In a four-year study of 800 seniors, those with the highest intake of niacin – also known as vitamin B-3 – had an 80 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Niacin sources include portobello and button mushrooms, red potatoes, and once again, salmon – an all-around “superfood” for seniors.

Here’s more “food for thought”: Onions and apples are loaded with quercetin – an antioxidant that may be even more powerful than vitamin C when it comes to preserving brain cells. The anthocyanins found in berries, grapes and cherries also maintain mental acumen. Tufts researchers found middle-aged rats fed a berry-rich diet performed tasks as well as much younger subjects.

Of course, what’s acuity without agility? Help reduce the risk and alleviate symptoms of joint pain by losing any excess weight; a mere 10-pound weight loss can reduce knee stress by 40 to 80 pounds. Those same fruits and vegetables that can help you manage your calorie budget also can reduce your risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to Harvard researchers. Specific foods for joint health include cherries and pineapple, both of which contain compounds that may inhibit inflammation.

Diminished sense of taste and smell, also a part of aging, may incline you to coat your food with salt at the precise time when blood pressure concerns should suggest limiting sodium intake. Instead of reaching for the salt shaker, try herbs and spices to add extra flavor. Curcumin, a compound in curry, can serve as another weapon in your anti-Alzheimer’s arsenal.

Finally, don’t let advancing years become an excuse for sitting on the sidelines. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that for every mile elderly women walk per day, the risk of cognitive decline drops by 13 percent. Such moderate aerobic exercise also improves heart function. Adding strength training can boost your metabolism, build bone density and even lift your libido. All in all, research suggests that those over 65 who exercise at least once a week have a 40 percent lower risk of premature death than their less-active peers.

So get out there, discover new activities, try new foods.