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Why making every bite count matters more as we age

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jun 25, 2019

Humorist, novelist, and journalist Mark Twain was famous for his wit and wisdom.  One of my favorite quotes he coined was, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”  However, what does matter is how healthfully we age, at least to me. I personally hope to live a long healthy life, with the emphasis on “healthy.”

So, is healthy eating more important as we get older?  Good nutrition is important at every stage of life.  But as the decades go by, likely, health issues will start to appear. Your food choices often have a significant role of what we may or may not develop. Smart nutritional choices do make a difference. That’s why it’s never too late to start afresh with eating habits promoting your health.

When you look at each decade of life nutritionally, they bring certain phases and changes to focus on.  Anyone who has lived long enough has seen and felt bodily changes.  That’s why starting young is best for building a strong nutritional foundation.  Let’s look at what to focus on as the years go by:

In your 20s and 30s:

You’re on your own, starting a job, family, and finding your way. This is the ideal time to think of healthy eating as setting a foundation for future behaviors, influencing your health and your children’s health.  Focus on the following:

  • Cook more at home – you’ll eat healthier. Eat out less often – you’ll save money. Make a weekly grocery list and stick to it; remember to check your cupboards, fridge, and freezer to see what’s already on hand and to prevent frequent trips to the grocery store.
  • Plan meals. Get your spouse and kids involved. This teaches planning ahead, how to choose healthy recipes and develops cooking skills.
  • Try to eat a fruit and vegetable at each or most meals.
  • Get in a routine of regular, consistent exercise.

In your 40s to 60s:

By this stage in life, you’ve experienced heartache, joy, and stress. You’ve been around the block a time or two; it is often during these ages you may get a diagnosis of a chronic disease such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If you haven’t already, now is a perfect time to make your health a priority:

  • While it’s tempting to eat out more often, resist it. It’s hard to eat healthy when several meals a week are eaten away from home. The more you cook at home, the more you’re in charge. You control the amount of fat, sodium, and sugar you consume; you decide what’s on the menu.
  • Watch portions sizes. Weight gain is typical as metabolism slows down. A snack or two may be okay but resist grazing throughout the day. Every bite of food contains calories and calories add up.
  • Emphasize fruits and vegetables. Want to look younger? Eat strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, and watermelon. Like feeling good with lots of energy? Eat beans, bananas, and spinach.  Want to preserve brain health? Eat berries, broccoli, and avocados.  Speaking of brain health, here’s a couple of other foods promoting cognitive functioning – walnuts and salmon.
  • Exercise every day. Include aerobic (walking, swimming, bicycling), strength training (lifting weights, pushups), and flexibility (yoga, Pilates, tai chi). Focus on preserving muscle mass making your bones more stable.

In your 70s and beyond:

The golden years – they really can be when you have taken the time, energy and know-how of practicing healthy lifestyle habits. If you reach this phase of life feeling healthy, fit and with few (if any) major health problems, good for you. While some may want to eat whatever they want, this time may be most important of all to make every bite count.  Here’s how:

  • Make hydration a priority. As we age, the thirst mechanism decreases. It’s not unusual by the time you notice you are thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. Make water your main beverage of choice each day.
  • Adopt a Mediterranean style of eating emphasizing healthy fats for good heart health. Foods included in this dietary pattern include walnuts, almonds, avocados, salmon and tuna. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is a great way to keep arthritic joints nourished along with your skin, eyes, and brain.
  • As we age, the need for nutrients increases, while calorie needs decrease. A nutrient-dense diet full of healthy foods is best – indulge in treats only occasionally. Focus on whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, brightly colored vegetables such as peppers and sweet potatoes, and choose dairy foods like yogurt and cottage cheese for calcium, and lean proteins such as lean beef, chicken, and fish.
  • Keep active. Your body is meant to move even in old age. Each day move your body – take a walk, swim, or do simple stretches. This keeps energy levels high and joints mobile.

In conclusion, another famous quote of mine is by American author and entrepreneur, Jim Rohn.  He stated,  “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” A “home” takes work to keep them up from painting walls, replacing windows to repairing the roof. Your body is no different. Eating healthy foods, proper amounts of exercise and adequate sleep, are good practices keeping your bodily foundation strong over your lifetime. While life can be messy, hectic, and demanding, always remember to carve out time for your own self-care. You’ll never regret it in the end.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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