Turning 50 is a milestone for many people. The half-century mark comes with new rules for medical tests and often brings a couple of health-related signals indicating that it’s time for some dietary changes. Even if you have enjoyed a healthy 50 years or more, nutritional needs change over time. Gradual dietary tweaks may be wise to ensure your golden years are, well, golden.
To help determine what nutrition your body needs as you age, it can be helpful to schedule a consultation with a registered dietitian.
Protect Your Bones
As we age, our bones weaken due to decreased mobility and mineral loss. Increasing vitamin D and calcium intake to three times per day is appropriate to prevent osteoporosis or to keep the condition from worsening. Many foods, such as cereal, bread and juice, are fortified with both these important dietary components to promote bone health. The National Osteoporosis Foundation also recommends enhancing the calcium content of recipes by adding two to four tablespoons of nonfat powdered milk. Each tablespoon contains 50 mg of calcium, which can help you reach your total daily recommendation.
If you don’t think you or your loved one is getting adequate minerals and nutrients from the food you eat, see a registered dietitian, nurse practitioner or doctor to get a prescription for a multivitamin. Our bodies need adequate vitamin D to absorb calcium. Food is the best way to obtain nutrition, but it can be difficult to achieve adequate intake through food alone. If symptoms of weakening bones or osteoporosis are already present, then a multivitamin with vitamin D added is the more suitable choice.
Swap Out Salt
High blood pressure may become an issue around age 50. Taking table salt away is one step towards a heart-healthy diet. Try seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, dill, paprika, pepper, citrus and fresh herbs instead. There are many low-sodium and sodium-free alternatives you can cook with that add a great deal of flavor and little or no salt to foods. Be aware of the sodium content of favorite sauces, condiments, and packaged and prepared foods as well. The easiest way to closely monitor sodium intake is to prepare home-cooked meals using fresh ingredients.
Boost Energy Levels
When we reach our fifties, it’s common to notice a change in daily energy levels. This is normal to an extent, but a vitamin B12 deficiency may also be to blame. If a person tests as B12 deficient, daily supplementation is key. Feeling lethargic obviously isn’t ideal, but accepting a slump in energy can lead to decreased mobility and activity, which contribute to osteoporosis, heart weakening and alterations in bowel movements. Overall health is all one big, interconnected circle, so it’s important to do what’s needed to stay active and maintain a high quality of life. Dietary sources of B12 include beef liver, mackerel, sardines, red meat, yogurt and fortified cereals.
Watch Your Weight
Nearly every senior asks me how much they should eat to maintain a healthy weight. Most are concerned that they may gain a few pounds while recovering from surgery or a health setback. The general Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) lists specifics for senior men and women of different activity levels. However, keep in mind that this is just an overview. Even caloric intake must be personalized for some individuals, depending on whether they need to maintain a healthy weight or lose/gain a few pounds.
Gut Health Equals Good Health
Prebiotics and probiotics are sometimes called “nutrition boosters.” Prebiotics are natural non-digestible food components that enhance gastrointestinal (GI) function and calcium absorption (which is great for those who suffer from bone loss). Prebiotic intake can be increased by eating things like asparagus, garlic, bananas and whole grain foods.
Probiotics are good bacteria that are naturally found in the gut. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other infections, but these medications kill both good and bad bacteria and can negatively affect the GI system. To maintain healthy gut flora and help the digestive system recover more quickly after taking these medications, take a daily probiotic supplement and eat foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Improve Immune Function
Inflammation is involved in a number of different diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer. As we all know, these conditions are prevalent in seniors, especially since our immune systems tend to weaken as we age. Research says that at least half of one’s plate should consist of vegetables and fruit at each meal. Choose healthy animal proteins like fatty fish (salmon) or lean poultry (boneless skinless chicken breast) and whole grains as your source of carbohydrates and starch to round out meals.
Factor in Fiber
A common disease found in people 50 and older is type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber is beneficial for slowing down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which decreases and stabilizes blood glucose levels. Fiber is also important for digestion, lowering cholesterol and helping maintain a healthy weight. It will help promote regular bowel movements as well. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that males 51 and older consume 28 grams of dietary fiber each day and females 51 and older should consume 22.4 grams. Plant foods (beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains) are the best source of fiber and tend to be nutrient dense as well — a win-win!