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Eating well as you age

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By Theresa Howard

The physical benefits of a healthful diet include increased resistance to illness, faster recuperation times, higher energy levels, and better management of chronic diseases. The mental benefits are just as important and include increased cognitive function, better stress management, and emotional balance.

Here are some basic guidelines from UK Health & Wellness for healthful eating as you age:

Choose more whole foods and fewer processed foods. Focus on food that is as close to its natural form as possible.

Make fruits and vegetables a major part of your diet and choose from a variety of colors. Different colors indicate different nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of fiber.

Choose “good carbohydrates” that are high in fiber and low in sugar. They will help you feel full and give you longer-lasting energy than the “white stuff.” Look for whole grain as the first ingredient when shopping for bread, cereal, crackers, and pasta. Other whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and popcorn.

Include a good protein source at each meal and snack. Older adults often struggle to get enough protein, which is important for reducing muscle loss. Choose from a variety of protein sources, including both animal and plant based. Options include beans, peas, lentils, cheese, yogurt, milk, eggs, fish, lean beef, chicken, and peanut butter.

Enjoy good fats that protect your heart and brain. Foods sources include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, salmon, and tuna.

Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium per day to maintain bone health, which you can get through milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. Non-dairy sources include fortified soy milk, fortified cereal, tofu, leafy greens, and soybeans.

Watch your sodium intake, the bulk of which is usually consumed through processed foods like frozen meals and other convenience items. Look for no, low, or reduced sodium versions of foods, especially canned goods. Add less salt when cooking.

Try not to skip meals, which can cause you to feel sluggish and make poor choices later in the day. Even if you don’t feel like preparing food and/or eating much, have a small, healthful snack like an apple with peanut butter or yogurt with some nuts and fruit.

Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. As we age, our sense of thirst is diminished and we risk dehydration.

Make eating as enjoyable as possible by sharing meals with others and trying new foods and flavors.