Essential Nutrients for an Aging Body
Although the New Year is still a few months away, for many of us, September always feels a little like a time for new beginnings. Schoolchildren start a new year of learning, football fans get ready for four months of cheering their favorite team, and the crisp air and turning leaves remind us that the seasons are changing yet again. Now is a good time to turn over a new leaf of our own to ensure we’re getting the nutrients we need as we settle in for the winter. Here are just some of the nutrients that older adults should be ensuring are in their diets.
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 the beta-amyloid protein, which are 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. Foods 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 helps 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 researchers 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. Foods rich in Vitamin B12 include meat, fish, dairy, and eggs.
Potassium is essential for proper cell function (regulating fluid and mineral balances) and has been shown to 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 of dehydration for numerous reasons. First, the body loses water as we age, and our awareness of thirst decreases. 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.