Wondering How to Support Aging? Think Nutrition

Wondering How to Support Aging? Think Nutrition

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Good nutrition can support healthy aging.

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DEC. 1, 2022   4 MINUTE READ

Whether you're getting older or are caring for an elderly loved one, it's normal to wonder how to support aging. The answer may be as simple as good nutrition. While a nutritious, balanced diet is essential at every stage of life, it's especially critical as you mature.

The good news is that nutritious diets for elderly people may support a range of physical and psychological well-being needs, helping seniors stay strong, active and independent.

What Is the Relationship Between Aging and Diet?

A nutritious diet is important for maintaining good physical and psychological well-being. Poor diet quality can affect adults' nutritional status and muscle health, which in turn may affect cognition, independence and quality of life. It can also increase the risk of illness, falls and hospitalization.

Additionally, older people are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, which occurs when the body doesn't get enough of the nutrients it needs to function efficiently. Malnutrition isn't always visible. It's easy to assume it only happens to people who struggle with a poor appetite or don't have enough to eat. But this condition can hide in plain sight or be masked by other health conditions. That's because it can strike people who outwardly appear to be well-nourished yet consume a diet filled with nutrient-poor foods or may impact those who are managing a chronic condition or were recently hospitalized.

Why Are Older People at Greater Risk?

One of the most common causes of inadequate nutrient intake in elderly people is poor appetite, affecting 15% to 30% of elderly people. Lack of appetite can be due to changes in taste, smell and chewing ability that naturally occur with age. But it can also result from medications, chronic illnesses, surgery and cognitive changes.

There are other reasons older people may not obtain the nutrients they need for healthy aging. They may lack the energy or motivation to shop for or prepare nutritious foods, especially if they live alone. At the same time, requirements for specific nutrients — such as protein for muscle health and calcium and vitamin D for strong bones — increase later in life while absorption of vitamin B12 for maintaining a healthy nervous system often decreases. These changes can make proper nutrition challenging even for those with a robust appetite.

How Nutrition Intervention Plays a Positive Role in Aging

A new study published in Clinical Nutrition, in partnership with Abbott and Javeriana University and San Ignacio Hospital in Bogotá, Colombia, explored the impact of a personalized nutrition program for older adults on physical and psychological well-being and overall quality of life.

Approximately 600 older adults, many of whom had a recent hospitalization or were managing a chronic disease and were either malnourished or at risk, received a personalized nutrition program that included nutrition and exercise education as well as nutritional drinks for 60 days.

More than half of the participants showed improvement in their nutritional status and calf circumference, which is a measure of leg muscle mass. In addition, participants showed improvements in body weight and body mass index, which helped drive other benefits. At least 1 in 3 participants had compromised baseline status in cognition, physical functionality, psychological well-being and/or quality of life. Among these individuals:

  • 84% had improved psychological well-being.
  • 76% had improved quality of life by improving their mobility and self-care.
  • 75% had improved cognitive function.
  • 48% had improved physical functionality.

How Simple Steps Can Support Healthy Aging

Prioritizing good nutrition can go a long way for older adults, and improving dietary choices doesn't have to be difficult. Adults can implement simple steps to support healthy aging:

  • Focus on nutrient-rich foods. Older adults may experience lower appetites, which is why it's important to select foods that are high in nutrients, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lean proteins, nuts and seeds.

  • Prioritize protein. Starting at age 40, adults may lose up to 8% of muscle mass per decade, and this rate may double starting at age 70. Focusing on regular physical activity and incorporating protein-rich foods can help maintain or prevent loss of muscle mass.

  • Consider nutritional drinks. Oral nutrition supplements provide complete and balanced nutrition and can help older adults get the nutrients they need every day. Older adults at risk of malnutrition who consume oral nutritional supplements are almost twice as likely to see improvements in their nutritional status.

  • Be mindful of nutritional status. Malnutrition is often a hidden health condition that affects up to 1 in 3 older adults. If you suspect that you or a loved one is at risk for malnutrition, talk to your doctor about a nutrition screening.

6 Ways to Maximize Nutrition

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Nutrition and health go together. After all, it's food that fuels every cell in your body and supports your muscles for strength. Optimizing your diet to maximize your health doesn’t have to be difficult. By focusing on a variety of foods and nutrients, you can help support your strength, and energy.

Here are six strategies to improve your nutrition decisions. 

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8 Protein-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

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Getting the right amount of protein in your diet is important for healthy living. Protein is in every cell in the body from our muscles, to our organs, skin and even our hormones. It helps with muscle building, strength and energy and eating enough is important to keeping your body running smoothly.

However, recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from researchers at Abbott and the Ohio State University found that more than 1 in 3 of adults over 50 years old are not getting the daily recommended amount of protein they need. And because we may begin to naturally lose muscle after we turn 40 — as much as 8 percent of overall muscle mass every decade — getting enough protein as we age is even more important. 

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