The Role of Nutrition in Healthy Aging
As we get older, we increase our risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Nutrition is a therapy that can help improve our quality of life as we age and even help us maintain healthy cognition, muscle mass, and mobility. Here are some special nutrition considerations for adults over the age of 60, including the top 5 nutrients to add to your overall diet to promote healthy aging.
- Vitamin D and calcium: These micronutrients are important in maintaining strong bones to prevent the development of osteoporosis- a disease that can lead to brittle and fragile bones.
- Choose Low-fat dairy, milk, yogurt, and cheese to get the richest sources of Vitamin D and calcium
- If you are lactose intolerant or avoid dairy, try Vitamin D and Calcium fortified plant-based milk, such as almond milk or soy milk
- Incorporate at least 1 serving of dairy or non-dairy milk w/ each meal (1 slice of cheese, 1 cup of milk, ½ cup of yogurt)
- Omega 3 fatty acids: These fatty acids fats that are important in overall heart health to prevent cardiovascular disease & reduce the risk of a stroke. They are essential to have and can only be derived from the food that we eat.
- Rich sources include flax seeds, chia seeds, or fatty fish such as salmon or tuna, anchovies, and sardines.
- Try to consume at least 2 servings of fish per week or sprinkle flax seed or chia seed to your yogurt, cereal, or salads when possible
- Protein is important for building healthy muscle tissue, especially to prevent sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass with age). Adequate protein in our diet can also help us maintain our mobility as we age!
- Protein-rich sources include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
- There are protein-rich plant-based sources too! The richest sources include legumes such as edamame, soybeans, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and lentils.
- To get adequate protein, try to add 3 oz lean meat (about the size of a deck of cards) or 1/2 cup (about the size of your fist) of legumes/ beans with every meal.
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 plays a role in healthy red blood cell development. This vitamin may also reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline as we age. As we age, we naturally make less stomach acid, which helps us absorb Vitamin B12.
- Vitamin B12 is found in most meat and fish so again, try to include a serving of meat or fish with every meal
- For vegans and vegetarians, consider taking an oral supplement of Vitamin B12. At least 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 is an adequate dose for older adults.
- Fiber: Insoluble and soluble fibers are important in digestive health and helps promote regularity
- The highest sources include all legumes, brussel sprouts, avocados, bran flakes, and chia seed
- The general rule of thumb: make half your plate full of fruits and vegetables and when selecting grains look for “whole grain” or “whole wheat”
Aging gracefully can be rooted in what we put on our plates. In addition to healthy eating patterns, it is important to continue to be active and eat socially when possible! Eating socially improves our quality of life. Most importantly it gives us the opportunity to share life moments and stories with our loved ones, over a plate of nourishing food. At the Y, we have numerous programs dedicated to supporting your health goals, visit: www.ymcadallas.org/communityhealth to learn more!
Patricia Esparza, RDN is a Registered Dietitian with the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. She earned her Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Viterbo University and is a Licensed Dietitian. Patricia has a wide variety of experience in clinical dietetics and public health nutrition. Her own journey with health and wellness, has fueled her passion for nutrition education to build healthier communities.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics