Aging. It’s something we all experience and can’t avoid. Fortunately, there are things we can do to make sure we stay healthy. Maintaining good health as we age reduces our risk for chronic disease, supports quality of life, helps maintain independence and promotes longevity. Let’s take a look at a few ways to age healthfully.
As we get older, our bodies become less efficient at maintaining muscle mass and the proteins in our body begin to degrade. That’s why it’s important to eat enough protein each day—it helps prevent the muscle loss that can occur with age, also known as sarcopenia. Whether you’re a vegetarian or omnivore, protein can be found in a variety of your favorite foods. Protein comes in both animal and plant forms. Good sources of animal protein include fish, eggs, meat and dairy. Good sources of plant protein include beans, nuts and soy. To help get enough protein each day, aim for 25 to 30 grams per meal.
Fiber also promotes healthy aging. But what is fiber? Fibers are non-digestible carbohydrates (and lignin) found in many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. The health benefits of consuming fiber are well known, and include the reduction of risk for chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Recommended fiber intakes are based on the number of calories required each day (14 grams per 1,000 calories). Because men typically require more calories, it’s recommended that men over 50 years of age consume 30 grams per day and women ages 50 and older consume 21 grams of fiber per day.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Another common issue associated with aging is the loss of bone density, especially in women. To help combat this, it’s recommended to eat or drink at least three servings of calcium-containing dairy per day. Calcium can also be found in fortified breakfast cereals and soy foods, as well as dark, leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin D is another important nutrient for bone health because it increases your body’s ability to absorb calcium. While some vitamin D can be attained through sun exposure, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The best sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon and swordfish. Foods with smaller amounts of vitamin D include egg yolks and cheese. Because natural sources of vitamin D are difficult for most people to consume enough of, many dairy and soy products, beverages and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D to help us get the amount we need.
Lastly, because our immune systems weaken as we age, it’s important to take the steps necessary to prevent foodborne illness. An easy mantra to remember is, “clean, separate, cook and chill.” First, make sure to properly wash foods and use clean preparation surfaces and utensils. Separating raw meats from fruits and vegetables will help you prevent cross-contamination with bacteria. Then, cook your foods to the appropriate internal temperature, using a food thermometer, especially for meat, poultry and fish. Lastly, when storing foods, be sure they are kept at the proper temperatures. For food that should be refrigerated and for foods that have been cooked, avoid letting them sit out for too long in the “danger zone” of 40°-140° F. This will keep your food fresh and safe for longer.
Long story short, none of us are getting any younger. By staying young at heart, active and following a healthy eating style, we increase our chances to live a longer, happier and healthier life!