Nutrition: What You Need to Know for Healthy Aging
When it comes to healthy aging and your diet, there are plenty of mixed up “facts” that need to be unraveled, says Johns Hopkins registered dietitian Kathleen Johnson, M.A., R.D., L.D.N. Here, she separates nutrition fact from fiction.
Myth: You should avoid dairy as you get older.
Truth: Only if it aggravates your stomach or digestive system.
Our bodies often become less tolerant of certain foods as we get older, says Johnson. Dairy is one of them because production of the enzyme lactase, which aids in the digestion of dairy, decreases as we age.
But unless you’re not feeling well after having dairy products (symptoms such as gas and bloating), there’s no need to start shunning dairy.
Myth: You can only get calcium from dairy.
Truth: Many other foods are surprisingly good sources.
If you can’t tolerate dairy anymore (see above), you can still meet the daily recommended amount (1,300 milligrams to help prevent osteoporosis) by eating foods such as bok choy (79 milligrams per serving) and white beans (96 milligrams). Other foods with calcium: spinach (146 milligrams), salmon (181 milligrams) and sardines (325 milligrams).
Myth: You should switch to a low-carb, high-protein diet.
Truth: It’s better to follow a well-balanced eating plan that helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Protein does help build muscle mass — something our body naturally loses after the age of 50 (thus the importance of resistance training). However, Johnson says, what’s most important for those over 50 is achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
For that goal, she says, “practicing moderation, and making sure the largest food on your plate is a vegetable, followed by whole grains and protein” is important. One eating plan that most medical experts support for healthy aging is the Mediterranean diet.
Myth: You should avoid saturated fats.
Truth: Some can be good for you. Instead, focus on eating more healthy fats.
“There is good nutrition science supporting the benefits of good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats,” Johnson says — fats found in foods such as nuts and fatty fish.
“Just don’t make fats — of any type — the largest part of your diet,” she says. Bear in mind that fats help our bodies absorb many key vitamins and minerals for healthy aging.
From managing medications to dealing with changes in sleep patterns, aging can be complicated. Gerontologist Colleen Christmas, M.D., shares strategies for healthy aging during a panel discussion at A Woman’s Journey — Baltimore, a daylong women’s health event in November.