Healthy Aging Diet: what you eat can help you live

By Eileen Luker
Posted 8/25/19

This emphasizes a healthy eating pattern that meets the unique needs of older adults. These are reflected in the MyPlate for Older Adults, developed at Tufts University and its Jean Mayer USDA Human …

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Healthy Aging Diet: what you eat can help you live

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This emphasizes a healthy eating pattern that meets the unique needs of older adults. These are reflected in the MyPlate for Older Adults, developed at Tufts University and its Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. There is no “one-size-fits-all” plan; however the aim of the MyPlate for Older Adults is to provide informed options for healthier eating.

The frontiers of what we know about diet and healthy aging are continually expanding. This plan can help you keep up and learn how eating right can improve your odds of living healthier longer. However young you feel, your body and its nutritional needs change with age. As you get older, you need fewer calories, so it’s very important to choose foods that are nutrient dense – packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and other essentials.

Tufts experts have created a MyPlate for older adults graphic that emphasizes these special nutritional needs. It’s never too late to reap the benefits of making smart changes in your diet. Shifting to healthier food choices can decrease your risk for chronic diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – all of which are more common in older than younger adults.

Eating healthier also can help you manage a variety of health conditions, including high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, elevated blood glucose, and digestive disorders. A healthy dietary pattern paired with an active lifestyle also can help protect against the more subtle, but no less devastating, loss of lean muscle mass associated with aging, a condition for which Tufts scientists coined the term “sarcopenia” in the late 1980s. Once thought to be an inevitable accompaniment to advancing years, sarcopenia is now understood to be largely preventable. 

Does eating well actually make a difference in your risk of chronic disease and chances of longevity? Research by Dr. Renata Micha, registered dietician and an assistant professor at Tufts’ Friedman School, and colleagues revealed that eating more of certain foods and not enough of others was associated with nearly half of all deaths in the U.S. due to cardio metabolic diseases and events that include heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

To reduce the risk of premature death our data suggest Americans need to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetable oils, and omega-3 rich fish. At the same time, people need to cut back on salt, processed meats and sugar-sweetened drinks. 

Five of the 10 leading causes of death for individuals over age 60 are conditions that benefit from diet and nutrition intervention. These diseases can affect your quality of life and your ability to live independently. Following the MyPlate for Older Adults can help prevent and lower the risk of developing one of these: 

Cardiovascular disease: 

The leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world – are influenced by diet: unhealthy blood lipid levels (including high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides), high blood pressure (hypertension) and obesity. 

Type 2 Diabetes: 

Two or four times higher risk of death from heart disease or stroke. Other complications from diabetes include vision loss, kidney disease, and neuropathy. Maintaining a normal weight and controlling your intake of foods and beverages high in sugars and carbohydrates can help you manage the disease. 

Cancer: 

Eating whole and minimally processed foods contributes to a reduced risk of cancer. Experts say limiting red meat and processed meat and eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce your risk. It is important to also maintain a healthy weight. 

Chronic kidney disease: 

Your kidneys cannot properly filter waste and excess fluids from your blood. When waste products and excess fluids remain in your body, they can cause swelling and high blood pressure, impairs the function of your cardiovascular and immune systems, and increases your risk of bone fractures. But a healthy diet and keeping yourself hydrated can reduce your risk. 

Making smart choices at every meal can help you get the nutrition you need to reduce your risks of chronic disease. It is especially important to get the most nutritional “bang” for your caloric “buck.” That’s why nutrient density is so important. 

Give your plate a Makeover! 

MyPlate for Older Adults spotlights nutrient-dense food choices. The plate depicts a colorful plate with images to encourage older Americans to follow a healthy eating pattern bolstered by physical activity. The plate is composed of: 

• 50% fruits and vegetables 

• 25% grains, most of which are whole grains 

• 25% protein-rich foods, such as fish, poultry, lean meat, beans, nuts, and fat-free and low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Fruits and Vegetables: 

Whole fruits and vegetables are rich in important nutrients and fiber. Choose fruits and vegetables with deeply colored flesh. Choose canned varieties that are packaged in their own juices or low sodium. 

Healthy Oils: 

Liquid vegetable oils and soft margarines provide important fatty acids and some fat soluble vitamins. 

Herbs and Spices: 

Use a variety of herbs and spices to enhance flavor of foods and reduce the need to add salt. 

Fluids: 

Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids can come from water, tea, coffee, soups, and fruits and vegetables. 

Grains: 

Whole grain and fortified foods are good sources of fiber and B vitamins. 

Dairy: 

Fat-free and low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurts provide protein, calcium and other important nutrients. 

Protein: 

Protein rich foods provide many important nutrients. Choose a variety including nuts, beans, fish, lean meat and poultry. 

With these efforts to eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle, the risk of long term effects of diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes decrease. Follow MyPlate for Older Adults and see where it can take your lifestyle and how many more years you can enjoy these changes! 

Nutrition Counseling and Education is provided by Oneida County Office for the Aging and Continuing Care/NY Connects. Anyone with questions about services and programs for older adults and caregivers, including the Senior Nutrition Program, should call Oneida County Office for the Aging/NY Connects at 315-798-5456. You will be connected to someone who can assist you.

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