What’s on Your Plate?

A Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated dietitian shares senior-specific nutrition tips

Written by Dustin Waters

While we can’t redo health decisions we’ve made in the past (wouldn’t that be nice?), there’s good news: The food you eat today, tomorrow and beyond has a profound impact on your future health forecast. “Your diet impacts your energy levels, mood, weight, risk for and outcomes of chronic disease and much more,” says Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated dietitian Andrea Zalno. She notes that, as we age, it can be helpful to evaluate—and sometimes re-calibrate—our daily diets.

First off, the rumors are true: “Metabolism, or the rate at which our bodies burn calories for energy, decreases with age,” says Zalno. For some, physical activity levels may have declined over the years too. In middle age, a slowing metabolism and decreased activity can result in weight gain if caloric intake isn’t adjusted. But Zalno says older adults often experience a decrease in appetite, which is another side effect of a slowing metabolism. “Many seniors report feeling full more quickly than they used to,” says Zalno. “If that’s the case, try eating smaller, more frequent nutrient-rich meals throughout the day.”

As for what to eat, avoid pre-packaged ultra-processed foods, fried food and items loaded with sugar as much as possible. “Instead, focus on eating lean meat like seafood and poultry or plant-based protein options, whole grains, low-fat dairy and produce,” she says. “If dental issues make fruits and veggies hard to eat, try boiling, grilling or roasting them.”

Be aware that your sense of taste and thirst levels can decline with age. “Skip the butter and salt when adding flavor to your meals; instead, use lemon, fresh herbs and dried spices (other than salt) to amp up the taste.”

Minor shifts make a big difference, Zalno stresses, especially if you’re looking back on a lifetime of less-than-ideal nutritional choices. “A great goal to start would be to cut out one sugary beverage or fried meal a day. You’ll create positive momentum that you can build on with more healthy shifts.” If you need more specific nutrition guidance, enlist the help of your primary care doctor or a registered dietitian.

Snack Attack

Smart snacking between meals helps keep your energy level and metabolism up throughout the day and can contribute to your daily goal of eating a well-balanced assortment of foods packed with macronutrients, micronutrients and antioxidants. Here, Zalno provides some healthy snack ideas to keep on hand:

Feed Your Brain!

New research shows that increasing your intake of flavonoids may help protect you from Alzheimer’s disease

If you’re looking for specific foods to boost your health, try berries, pears, apples and tea. Each of these is packed with flavonoids: natural substances found in plants, their fruit and certain plant-based drinks that have been found to reduce inflammation throughout the body. A new long-term study by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found an association between high intake of flavonoid-rich foods and a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias. Researchers analyzed data gathered from 2,800 people aged 50 and up over two decades. They compared monthly consumption of six types of flavonoids with diagnosis rates of AD and other dementias. People with the lowest intake of certain flavonoids had between two and four times the risk of developing AD or dementia as those who consumed the most. The group with the lowest intake ate no berries and about one and a half apples or pears each month and didn’t drink tea. The highest-intake group consumed an average of seven and a half cups of berries, eight apples or pears and 20 cups of tea per month.

A New Health Report for Young Seniors

The America’s Health Rankings 2019 Senior Report released by United Health analyzed health data from “young seniors” in the U.S., or adults between the ages of 65 and 74. Here’s how rates of alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity have shifted within this age group between 2002 and 2017: