Aging and What To Do About It - Diet and health

Just what are your food requirements as you grow older? Basically you need the same essential nutrients that you have always needed, except that you face special problems. You need to:

  1. • Select food more carefully to eat adequate proteins, vitamins, and minerals—while cutting down on calories.
  2. • Get the most nutritious food for the least money and make the most of what you buy.
  3. • Avoid bad eating habits—make mealtime a pleasure rather than a chore.
  4. • Learn new techniques to stretch meals, use leftovers, and substitute lower-priced items with the same nutritional value for higher-priced foods. In other words, learn how to shop well.

Basic Requirements

How can you get the essential nutrients every day? A good rule is first to eat recommended servings from the Food Guide Pyramid established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then, eat other foods that you like, as long as they do not go over the recommended daily caloric intake. Some older and sedentary adults require only 1,600 calories a day. For more active older adults, an intake of 2,200 calories is recommended, which is less than the 2,800 calories needed by teenage boys and active young adults. As you grow older, your physical activity decreases and your metabolism slows, causing body fats to build up and making you more prone to hardening of the arteries and certain heart conditions. Make sure you balance your eating with sufficient exercise. Use vitamin supplements as recommended by your physician.

Here is an explanation of the Food Guide Pyramid:

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group

Six to 11 servings from this group are recommended. Typical servings are a slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal, and ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta. These foods provide complex carbohydrates, a source of energy. These foods also supply vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try to choose whole-wheat and whole-grain products, which have more fiber. Watch out for fat and sugar in the foods you buy, and limit high-calorie and high-fat spreads and condiments in serving them.

Vegetable Group

Three to five servings of vegetables daily are recommended. A serving is a cup of raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup of other vegetables, or ¾ cup of juice. Vegetables provide vitamins (such as A and C) and minerals (such as iron and magnesium). They are low in fat and provide fiber. Eat different types of vegetables—dark green and leafy (spinach, broccoli, dark lettuce), deep yellow (carrots, sweet potatoes), and starchy (potatoes, corn, peas). Also include legumes, such as chickpeas and beans. Legumes, high in protein, are also a good substitute for meat. Go easy on fats, such as butter, mayonnaise, and salad dressings.

Fruit Group

Two to four servings of fruit per day are suggested. A serving is a medium banana, apple, or orange; ½ cup of chopped fruit; or ¾ A cup of juice. Fruits provide vitamins A and C and potassium and are low in fat and sodium. Choose whole fruits, which have more fiber, more often than juices. Choose fresh fruits and juices, and frozen, canned, or dried fruits. Limit or eliminate fruits packed or frozen in heavy syrup and juices that have added sugar. Include citrus fruits, melons, and berries, which have vitamin C. Be sure that your juice is 100 percent fruit juice, not stretched with sugary water. Fruit-flavored sodas, such as grape and orange, do not count.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group

Two to three servings from this group are needed daily. These foods supply protein and nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, and zinc. You should have the equivalent of five to seven ounces of cooked lean meat, fish, or poultry. For example, two to three ounces of cooked lean meat or fish (about one medium chicken breast half or an average hamburger) is a serving. For the other foods in this group, count ½ cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, two tablespoons of peanut butter, or 1/3; cup of nuts as equivalent to an ounce of lean meat. Choose lean or skinless meat, dry beans and peas, and fish often. Trim away all visible fat on meat, and broil, roast, or boil instead of frying. Limit egg yolks; try substituting extra whites. Go easy on nuts and seeds, which are high in fat.

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group

Two to three servings a day are recommended. Milk products provide protein, vitamins, and minerals, including important calcium. A serving is a cup of milk or yogurt (a cup of cottage chesse is only ½ a serving because of its lower calcium content), 1½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. Choose low- and non-fat products often.

Eating Habits

If you find that mealtime is a chore rather than a pleasure, try these tips to enhance your meals:

  1. • Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up to promote good digestion, weight control, and bowel movements.
  2. • Try a walk or light exercise to stimulate appetite and to regulate body processes. Moderate exercise also will help regulate weight.
  3. • You might sip glass of wine before dinner. This can improve appetite and digestion. Port, a light sherry, and vermouth with a dash of soda are good appetite stimulators.
  4. • Make meals interesting by including some food of distinctive flavor to contrast with a mild-flavored food; something crisp for contrast with softer foods, even if it is only a pickle or a lettuce leaf; some brightly colored food for eye appeal.
  5. • Pep up your food with a judicious use of herbs and spices or flavor-enhancers like wine, bottled sauces, fruit juices, and peels.
  6. • If some food causes you distress, eliminate it and substitute something else of equal nutritive value. Green salad may include too much roughage for the intestinal tract; ham or bacon may be supplying your body with too much salt, which increases water retention. Or you may be drinking too much coffee, tea, or soft drinks.
  7. • Be realistic about your chewing ability. Food swallowed whole may be causing digestive problems. If your teeth are not as good as they were or if you are wearing dentures, try cubing, chopping, or grinding foods that are difficult to chew. Let your knife or meat grinder do part of the work.
  8. • Try a different atmosphere or different setting for your meals. Use candlelight, music, and your best linen on occasion. Move outdoors when the weather is good; eat your lunch in the park and dinner on the patio.
  9. • Occasionally invite a friend or relative to dine with you. It's surprising what stimulating conversation and an exchange of ideas can do to boost your mood and appetite.
  10. • Try a new recipe or a new food. Thanks to modern transportation, foods are available in larger cities from many areas and other countries. Eat eggplant or okra, avocado or artichoke, gooseberry jam, or garbanzo beans in a salad. And why not have a papaya with lemon juice for breakfast?

Cooking Hints

Try these ideas for preparing food more easily; they are especially useful if you have only a single gas or electric burner:

  1. • Combine your vegetables and meat—or some other protein food—in a single pot or pan. You can cook many hot, nourishing meals of this kind: Irish stew, braised liver or pot roast with vegetables, ham-and-vegetable chowder or fish chowder, a New England boiled dinner.
  2. • Combine leftovers to make a one-dish meal. Leftover meat combines beautifully with vegetables, macaroni, or rice. Add a cheese or tomato sauce or a simple white sauce and heat in a baking dish. Chopped tomatoes or green onions or chives will give extra flavor and color to the dish.
  3. • Round out one-dish meals with a crisp salad topped with cut strips of leftover cooked meat or poultry or another raw food, bread, a beverage, and perhaps a dessert.
  4. • Mix leftover cooked vegetables with raw fresh ones, such as chopped celery, cucumber slices, tomatoes, green pepper, shredded cabbage, to make an interesting salad.
  5. • Cream vegetables, meat, fish, or chicken. Or serve them with a tasty sauce. Use canned tomato or mushroom soup for a quick and easy sauce. If the dish is a bit skimpy, a hard-boiled egg may stretch it to serving size.
  6. • Add a bit of relish, snappy cheese, or diced cucumber to a cooked dressing for meat or vegetable salad.
  7. • If you cook a potato, an ear of corn, or some other vegetable in the bottom of a double boiler, you can use the top to warm rolls, heat leftover meat in gravy, or heat such foods as creamed eggs or fish.

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