Whether you are a boomer or a zoomer, staying in good health and having the energy and stamina for your hobbies and grandkids is important. The trouble is that many people are not living their best life and haven’t the good health they desire. With focus and planning, you can add years to your quality of life simply by making better food choices. Here are some top nutrition challenges and practical solutions that can make a huge difference in how you look and feel in the years to come.
With age, our hormones shift, metabolic rate declines, and body composition changes to favour more body fat and less muscle. You require fewer calories than when you were in your 30s or 40s. If you are like many clients I have counselled, you might feel betrayed by your body. You may struggle to make sense of why you are gaining weight, despite having the same eating and activity patterns for years. In order to maintain the same weight you had in your 30s or 40s, you’ll need to eat less or exercise more. Trying to lose weight is even tougher.
Food researchers report that we underestimate how much we eat by approximately 20 to 40 per cent. Paying close attention to the quantity you eat and shrinking the portions of high calorie food will help you manage a healthy weight as you age. Many people eat too much junk food, or have a larger portion of grains and starch servings or meat and protein servings than they need. Boosting your intake of fruits and veggies can add volume to your diet without many extra calories.
Trying to lose weight? Keep a journal of what you are eating. Take an honest look at where you can make changes. Some research suggests that simply keeping a food record can double your weight loss results. Food journals help to keep you aware, focused and accountable for what, when and how much you are eating. Consider working with a registered dietitian (a nutrition expert), for one-on-one nutrition counselling. This is the best way to receive custom feedback about additional changes that you could make, based on your own health needs and preferences. Visit the Dietitians of Canada website to find a dietitian in your area.
What is eating me? If I am eating when I am not truly hungry, is it because I am stressed, sad, bored, angry or worried?
What am I hungry for? What am I looking for in my life that has not come my way yet? What fulfills me and brings me joy?
How can I comfort myself without food? How else can I soothe or nurture myself? Is there an enjoyable hobby, task or activity that I could do? Is there a friend I can call or a pet I can snuggle?
We eat for many reasons. We eat in response to both true hunger and emotional hunger. Signs of true hunger can include stomach rumbles, fatigue, difficulty focusing, food cravings and darker moods.
Teaching clients to tune in to emotional reasons for eating is challenging. As the ‘chocoholic dietitian,’ I enjoy chocolate as a comfort food. Chowing down on something delicious is a completely normal way to celebrate when you are happy, to comfort yourself when you are sad, or to soothe yourself when stressed. Everyone eats for emotional reasons. However, emotional eating can begin to affect your health, mood, body image and relationship with food. At this point, you need to find other ways to comfort yourself.
Remember to dig deep, be honest with yourself, and explore the true answers to the questions shown in the sidebar. You might also consider booking some appointments with a clinical psychologist to explore this further.
The risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes increases with age. Lower your risk by choosing heart healthy fats like vegetable oils, and those made from nuts, seeds, avocado and fish fats. Limit saturated fats by choosing leaner cuts of meat and lower-fat dairy. Eliminate trans-fats found in deep-fried, commercially baked goods and packaged foods containing hydrogenated oils. Reducing your sodium and sugar intake, and consuming only a low level of alcohol, is also wise.
Plan your meals with healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables. Balance each meal with a source of protein like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, nuts or legumes. Protein is key to providing a sense of fullness and preventing a rapid spike in your blood glucose level.
Eating enough vegetables and fruits each day is an essential part of reducing your cancer risk. Adults over 50 require seven servings of vegetables and fruits per day. One of the easiest ways to get enough is to make sure that breakfast and snacks contain fruit, while your lunch and supper have loads of vegetables.
This lofty list of healthy eating goals sounds challenging. If you have been eating a certain way for decades, it is hard to change everything overnight. Extreme lifestyle makeovers are rarely successful, so start small. Pick a few changes to work on, and build from there.
A significant number of the adults over 50 do not get enough calcium and vitamin D. This increases their risk for osteoporosis, colon cancer and high blood pressure. Adult males under 70 require 1000 mg of calcium per day. Women over 50 and men over 70 require 1200 mg of calcium per day. Without at least three servings of calcium-rich foods each day, you are unlikely to get enough calcium from food alone and will need calcium supplements. (Examples of calcium-rich servings are one cup of milk or fortified soy, rice or almond milk, ¾ cup of yogurt, or 1½ ounces of cheese.)
Vitamin D is critical to bone health, cancer prevention and more. Allow the best amount for health by consuming foods rich in vitamin D like milk and fatty fish, and taking a supplement. Health Canada recommends that all adults up to age 70 take a vitamin D supplement of 600 IU each day. 800 IU per day is advised for those over 70. Some health groups suggest an even higher level of vitamin D may be helpful. Speak to your doctor or dietitian about what is best for you.
After age 70, your ability to absorb vitamin B12 declines. Ten to 30 per cent of older people may not absorb vitamin B12 well. You need 2.4 mg of vitamin B12 per day to form DNA, make healthy blood cells and keep nerves working properly. Health Canada advises that adults over 50 years consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 or a supplement containing it. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal-based foods like eggs, dairy, meat, seafood and poultry, and some fortified foods like soy milk and soy-based meat substitutes. Be sure to have your doctor check the B12 levels in your blood.
Although supplements will never replace a balanced diet, taking an age-appropriate multivitamin each day can top up your intake of other key nutrients needed for long-term health.
Years of hearing conflicting media messages and many diet fads can leave you feeling confused and frustrated about what to eat. Refuse to buy into quick-fix solutions like diet pills, or revolutionary eating plans that highlight a long list of forbidden foods. I shake my head when someone tells me that their weight loss plan does not allow them to eat bananas or white rice. Has anyone actually become overweight because they ate too many bananas? I wonder if people who refuse to eat any white foods have pondered why the whole population of Asia is not overweight, eating a high-carb diet based on large quantities of white rice.
The truth is there are no bad foods, only bad diets. You will not be successful following something that relies on willpower and denying yourself enjoyable, soulful fun foods. Your eating plan needs to have built-in opportunities for social fun and yummy food chosen for non-nutrition reasons.
As the chocoholic dietitian, you can bet one of my non-negotiable foods is chocolate. I also really enjoy social foodie restaurant meals and wine. I have built these lifestyle and food preferences into my healthy eating plan. Think about how often you enjoy your favourite non-negotiable treats, and how much you actually need. Healthy eating is not about all or none, or good or bad foods. It is about making choices. What is really worth it? Save room for your favourite indulgences, and sacrifice those that really are not as important to you.
Wise food choices are just one part of an active and enjoyable lifestyle. Meet the food challenges of aging head on, and keep zooming well into your golden years.