A varied and healthy diet is essential to stay in good health at any age. This is especially true after the age of 40.
The importance of a healthy diet
The quality of your diet plays a key role in maintaining and improving your health throughout your lifetime. It is crucial to meet all your nutritional needs at any age, since the energy needed to go about your activities comes from the food you eat. While some nutrients are essential, others should be avoided or eaten in moderation.
It is normal for appetite and eating habits to change with age. As metabolism slows down, some people’s appetite decreases. Paradoxically, it can seem harder to maintain a healthy weight as you age, even if you feel you are eating less!
Nutrients to focus on
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential for the proper functioning of a number of biological processes, including the body. Since most essential vitamins and minerals are not produced by the body, they must come from outside sources, such as food or daily supplements.
Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace good eating habits. However, they can be useful to make up for deficiencies or to prevent or treat certain illnesses.
The vitamins and minerals most likely to be deficient in older people include:
- vitamin D
- vitamin B12
An adequate daily intake of calcium and vitamin D promotes bone health and helps to prevent or treat osteoporosis. A vitamin B12 or iron deficiency can cause certain types of anemia. Various vitamin and mineral supplements are specially formulated to meet the needs of people over the age of 50.
Fibre is associated with a number of health benefits:
- losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
- lowering levels of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) in the blood
- reducing the risk of heart disease, cerebrovascular accident (CVA or stroke), type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer
- better controlling blood glucose in people with diabetes
- maintaining good intestinal health
- preventing and treating constipation
Constipation may decrease appetite. This is a common problem in people who are getting on in years, especially if they are sedentary or have a poor diet.
Canadians generally eat about half of the daily recommended fibre intake. To increase your intake of this important nutrient, consider the following foods
- whole grain breads and cereals: oat bran, porridge, barley, quinoa, etc.
- legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
- nuts: pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
- vegetables: beans, eggplant, kale, spinach, avocado, etc.
- fruits: apples, strawberries, citrus, etc.
A supplement may be considered to ensure an adequate fibre intake. Several products from natural sources are available at the pharmacy. Your pharmacist can offer advice on these products.
Protein also plays a key role in maintaining health in older people. It is a significant source of energy, promoting muscle health and helping in a number of fundamental biological processes.
Many foods are rich in protein:
- fish and seafood
- dairy products
Nutrients to avoid
Some nutrients are known to have adverse effects on health when eaten in excess and should be avoided at any age. Depending on their health, certain people should pay particular attention to nutrients that are considered more harmful:
- sugar (e.g. in the case of diabetes or being overweight)
- salt (e.g. in the case of high blood pressure or a kidney disorder)
- saturated or trans fats (e.g. in the case of hypercholesterolemia or heart disease)
- alcohol (e.g. in the case of liver disease)
Speak to a healthcare professional to learn which nutrients should be avoided, depending on your situation.
For various reasons, a person may have temporary or permanent difficulty eating. It is possible to compensate for certain nutritional deficiencies by taking nutritional supplements (such as Boost®, Ensure®, Resource®, Sustacal®, etc.). A wide range of nutritional supplements are available in a variety of formats: liquid drinks, pudding, powder for reconstitution, etc.
With such a wide range of products available at the pharmacy, it can be difficult to choose. Some products are high in calories, protein or fibre, while others are specially formulated for people with diabetes. Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you need help selecting a product.
Canada’s Food Guide (CFG): a reference
Simple changes to your eating habits can help you maintain a healthy weight: make water your main drink, eat smaller meals more often, take the time to savour your food, avoid processed foods, and cook more often... These are all good examples of steps to take to ensure that you eat well to age well, and live longer!
The CFG contains other valuable information. It is THEE reference in terms of nutrition for all Canadians.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for advice on how to stay healthy by choosing a healthy lifestyle.