The Art of Aging Beautifully By Eating Right
There’s no argument that what we eat is key to living a beautifully balanced life. Getting the right nutrition and exercise helps prolong our life span and protects our bodies. As we age, this may spell all the difference. The stark contrast between an active 90-year-old and a wheelchair-bound 70-year-old lies in having the right approach to lifestyle, especially proper nutrition.
Well before we reach our senior years, most of us will be guilty of missing meals, eating unhealthy dishes, indulging in processed food, perhaps trying to relieve the stress from our busy lives, not realizing that we may have neglected to take care of ourselves in the long run. In my clinical practice, I see patients with chronic age-related conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and osteoporosis, among others. One common denominator among them is poor nutrition. Perhaps if they had enjoyed a healthier lifestyle, they would be able to better enjoy their golden years.
Among the elderly, proper nutrition remains crucial to health and well-being. Changes in our taste buds occur as we age, sometimes resulting in poor appetite and a preference for soft food like bread, fruits and pastries. This can lead to an imbalance of nutrients. Also, some seniors may tend to have little social contact. They may eat alone more often and perhaps no longer enjoy eating or have much appetite.
Poor nutrition results in reduced muscle mass, involving muscle wastage and loss of muscle function, a state called sarcopenia. It is estimated that more than 30% to 50% of people older than 60 to 80 years old have chronic muscle loss. What I fear most among my patients above 60 is their risk of falling due to muscle weakness and imbalance that almost always lead to debilitating fractures.
Eating right can help you or your loved ones age gracefully. Here are some practical tips to offset the dangers of a poor diet:
- Eat protein-rich foods. You can add chopped nuts to yogurt, or extra eggs and ground meat to omelets. Or else, spread peanut butter or cheese on bread.?
- If you have restrictions to seasonings (like salt) due to high blood pressure, restore balance by using lemon, herbs and spices to improve taste.
- Cook ground meat, fish and green vegetables in a way that requires less chewing and is easier to swallow.?
- Engage in physical activity that requires minimal supervision, with little risk of falling and fracture. Exercises like lifting the legs in a repetitive fashion while sitting, stationary bikes and light resistance training can help maintain and build muscles.
- Have your dietary intake assessed by a registered dietitian to determine if you’ll need protein meal replacements to meet the required daily intake of protein.
What is most important in aging beautifully is to be loved and well taken care of. For those of us with senior family members, no matter how busy we are with our daily lives, let’s always take time to visit our loved ones and enjoy meals together.
Dr. Gerry is a Mayo Clinic-trained endocrinologist based in Cebu. Visit his website at www.docgerrytan.com. This article first appeared in FOOD Magazine, Issue 3, 2016.
Photography by Paul del Rosario
Food styling by Tina Concepcion Diaz
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