Nutrients that Nourish an Aging Body
March is National Nutrition Month, which gives us the opportunity to explore the nutrients most important to an aging body. Seniors may be at greater risk for malnutrition due to a range of physical, social and medical issues – from a decreased sense of taste and smell to living alone to chronic illness. To help ensure you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to age well, stock up on foods with these essential nutrients.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These essential fats have a wealth of benefits, including slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration and potentially reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. According to a study published in Neurology, eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids is linked with lower levels of beta-amyloid protein, which is linked with Alzheimer’s disease. In an earlier study published in Neurology, low omega-3 levels were linked with smaller brain size and a poorer performance on memory tests. Omega-3s are also powerful anti-inflammatory agents that have been shown to ease joint pain and stiffness and depression, two ailments that affect seniors in disproportionately high numbers. Food high in omega-3s include wild salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, walnuts, flaxseed oil and beans.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Bones lose density as they age, particularly in women. Seniors may need more calcium and Vitamin D, which work together to strengthen bones. But don’t rely solely on dairy products – dark leafy greens, such as kale, watercress, collards and arugula, also are high in calcium as are broccoli, almonds, white beans and sardines. Additionally, greens have Vitamin K, another nutrient necessary for bone health.
This important vitamin help maintain healthy nerve function and seniors are at higher risk for not being able to absorb it from the food they eat. Additionally, a study conducted by researcher at Rush University Medical Center found that seniors with low levels of B12 had a greater risk of brain shrinkage and losing their cognitive skills. Food rich in Vitamin B12 include meat, fish and eggs.
Potassium is essential for proper cell function (regulating fluid and mineral balances) and has been shown to and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and kidney stones, two common maladies of an aging body. It also helps your muscles contract and enhances their strength. Bananas, prunes and plums are excellent sources of potassium.
Your cells need magnesium to maintain proper muscle and nerve function in your blood vessels, making it an excellent tonic for a variety of heart issues, which disproportionately affect older adults – everything from congestive heart failure to atherosclerosis to arrhythmias can be eased by getting enough magnesium into your diet. Magnesium can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds.
Seniors are at greater risk for dehydration for numerous reasons. First, the body loses water as we age, as does our awareness of thirst. Many age-related diseases, such as diabetes, increase the risk. Dehydration can have serious consequences, including loss of consciousness. For people who don’t like plain water, fruits and fruit juices, soups, tea, and naturally flavored water can often be more appealing and are good sources of fluids. People on a fluid-restricted diet should consult with their physician to ensure they are getting the proper level of fluids they need.
In addition to these essentials, we should all try to avoid eating highly processed foods, which can have hidden sugars, sodium and trans fats. Eating healthfully doesn’t mean giving up on taste – enjoy healthful fats such as avocados, walnuts, olive oil and wild salmon in moderation and eat foods high in fiber such as lentils, beans, and – of course – bran cereal. They key is to eat a variety of foods to ensure the full range of nutrients. If you don’t think you’re getting the nutrients you need from the foods you eat, talk to your physician about adding supplements into your diet.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.