A varied and healthy diet is essential to stay healthy 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 of 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 vary with age. As metabolism slows down, some people’s appetite decreases. Paradoxically, it sometimes seems more difficult to maintain a healthy weight as you age, even if you feel you eat less!
Nutrients to choose
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential to the proper functioning of a number of biological processes, and to the body. Because 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 deal with shortfalls or to prevent or treat certain illnesses.
The vitamins and minerals most likely to be insufficient 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:
- weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight
- lower levels of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) in the blood
- reduced risk of heart disease, cerebrovascular accident (CVA or stroke), type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer
- better control of blood glucose in people with diabetes
- maintaining good intestinal health
- preventing and treating constipation
Constipation may decrease appetite. This is a common problem for 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 fibre intake, choose the following foods:
- whole grain bread and cereal: oat bran, porridge, barley, quinoa, etc.
- legumes: beans, chick peas, 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. There are several products from natural sources 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 that promotes muscle health and helps in a number of fundamental biological processes.
There are many foods that are rich in protein:
- fish and seafood
- dairy products
Nutrients to avoid
Certain nutrients are known for their harmful effects on health when eaten in excess; consequently, their consumption 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 fat (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 for drinking, pudding, powder for reconstitution, etc.
With such a wide range of products, 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.
The Canada Food Guide (CFG): a reference point
Simply changing your eating habits can help you to maintain a healthy weight: drink plenty of water, 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 measures 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.