What Is the Healthiest Diet for Weight Loss?
Reading Food Labels
Identifying Nutrients in Food Labels
Understanding Fad Diets and Trends
Fasting and Limiting Calories
Avoiding Unintentional Weight Loss
As you grow older, the simple fact is that your body changes. Some of these changes will require adjustments to your diet in order to include the foods necessary to maintain optimal health. These dietary adjustments can also help avoid malnutrition, which if left unaddressed, could lead to more severe diseases or conditions.
Figuring out how much food you need, your adequate caloric intake, and the nutrients you need as your body ages may be confusing. However, it is imperative that you understand these things to increase your overall well-being and health.
How Does Aging Change Your Dietary Needs?
As your body changes with age, so too do your dietary needs. Generally, the aging body follows two primary patterns: your metabolism, and overall level of activity, will decrease. As a result, seniors will usually need to consume fewer calories (since they’re burning fewer off). They will absolutely need these calories to provide the nutrients necessary to avoid malnutrition. Several changes may happen to an aging body that can directly affect the way you eat — which may impact the number of nutrients consumed by older adults.
Physical and Sensory Changes
Smell and taste are two major contributors to the sensual experience of eating. These senses can change with age, and it could make an older adult lose interest in eating if certain foods aren’t as appealing as they once were.
Compounding on this, older people who do not maintain an active lifestyle may remain increasingly sedentary, losing muscle and potentially gaining weight. Sedentary behavior is relatively common among older people — with almost 60% of older adults reporting sitting for more than four hours per day.
Additionally, postmenopausal women may experience hormonal changes that make them more likely to gain weight. Collectively, all of these physical changes can be helped by understanding the proper nutrition that an aging body needs to be its best.
An aging digestive tract may not only affect the way you eat but could cause some gastrointestinal conditions as well. Atrophic gastritis — which is a decrease in the stomach acid that aids in nutrient absorption — affects approximately 20% of the elderly population.
Another gastrointestinal disease that affects 20% of adults is GERD. GERD is a chronic acid reflux disorder that can affect your diet, and if left untreated, may lead to even more significant health problems.
Peristaltic activity may also be affected by age. Peristaltic activity refers to the contractions and relaxations of your small intestine, colon, stomach, and esophageal muscles. These are the muscles that push food through your digestive tract, and changes in your peristaltic activity can affect the way the body receives nutrients.
Dentition and Oral Health
Dentition — or the condition of the teeth — generally deteriorates with age. Dentition is directly related to insufficient caloric intake and can cause seniors to weigh in below a healthy average. Those with impaired dentition have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin A, carotene, folic acid, and vitamin C. Essentially, if your teeth have been worn down or damaged so much so that you can’t eat, or that it hurts to eat, you may not be ingesting the necessary amount of food.
Malnutrition and Vitamin Deficiencies
Each digestive, physical, and sensory change that comes with age could ultimately lead to deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D and B12, omega fats, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and more. Malnutrition is a concern for the elderly population, but with the proper diet containing the necessary nutrients, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, and weight fluctuations can be managed.
What Nutrients Do You Need for a Healthy Senior Diet?
A nutritious diet is recommended across the board to help contribute to overall well-being and to help support a healthy lifestyle. Seniors will need more of these particular nutrients while sticking to a regular diet. Since older adults generally require fewer calories, they will need to know how to get an adequate amount of nutrition through less food.
Nutrients Aging Adults Need
It should be no surprise that certain foods are more nutritious than others. For older adults, this may mean retooling your diet and working some of the following foods into your dietary habits to get the nutrients you need:
- Protein-rich foods can help promote muscle strength, bone health, and other essential physiological functions. Protein can come in the form of lean meat, poultry, and fish. Additionally, beans, nuts, and eggs can be added to your diet to help receive the protein an aging body needs.
- Adding fiber to your diet can help regulate your digestive system and lower the risk of heart disease and obesity. Adding whole-grain bread, breakfast cereals, brown rice and pasta, fruits, vegetables, and lentils to your diet can provide you with the fiber necessary to remain healthy.
- Calcium-rich foods can promote bone strength and can be added to your diet in the form of milk, cheese, yogurt, cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin D. The absorption of calcium can be made more accessible by eating foods that are rich in vitamin D. Additionally, vitamin D may protect against type II diabetes and rheumatoid osteoporosis. Excellent sources of vitamin D include cereals, milk, yogurt, juices, eggs, and fish such as salmon and tuna.
- Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 promotes brain and nervous system functions. B12 can be found in many meat and poultry dishes, and milk.
- Potassium helps strengthen bones and reduces the risk of high blood pressure and kidney stones. Fruits and vegetables, including bananas, prunes, and potatoes are rich in potassium.
- Magnesium can promote mental health, heart health, strengthening the immune system, and healthy bones. Get your magnesium from fruits and vegetables, or nuts and grains.
- You can receive iron through many things — red meats, fortified cereals, seafood, and more. Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the blood to various parts of the body, helping to reduce feelings of lethargy.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fatty acids can reduce inflammation (which could otherwise lead to cancer), rheumatoid arthritis, and can even help prevent heart disease and slow down macular degeneration. These fatty acids can be found in sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon as well as flaxseed, soybeans, and nuts.
Maintaining a diet that contains these foods can get more of these specific nutrients into your body to help promote health and well-being. Some medications can interfere with the absorption of specific nutrients. One example is proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used to treat acid reflux; they have been associated with malabsorption of B-121, iron2 and magnesium.3 It’s important to consult with your doctor and discuss how regular medications (prescription and over the counter) may impact your nutritional needs.
Healthy Portions on Your Plate
It is not enough to simply know which foods to add to your diet. A dietary plan that accounts for your calorie needs is also necessary to stay healthy as your body ages. The USDA’s MyPlate Plan can help you get started in tracking calories, monitoring your weight and exercise, serving size portions, and daily value percentage of certain nutrients you need for your lifestyle.
For instance, if you want to maintain a 2000 calories/day diet, your MyPlate plan will create a daily menu for you — recommending 2 cups of fruits, 2 ½ cups of vegetables, 6 ounces of grains, 5 ½ ounces of protein, and 3 cups of dairy. Additionally, MyPlate can provide activities, cookbooks, and resources on how to eat healthy on a budget.
Your Hydration Situation
Water can provide enormous benefits for your health; it helps get rid of waste, keeps your temperature regular, lubricates and cushions joints, protects sensitive tissues, and more. Your sense of thirst can decline with age, so it is vital to include water — about 15.5 cups for men, and 11.5 cups for women daily — to help facilitate your overall health.
What Is the Healthiest Diet for Senior Weight Loss?
Out of the many diets focused specifically on weight, two stand out as smart choices for older adults — as they promote weight loss, as well as work to help manage conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The DASH Eating Plan. This diet, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, provides heart-healthy recommendations without special foods. The DASH diet has been shown to increase physical activity, lower blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol based upon its recommendations of low-sodium and low-sugar foods and beverages. It also encourages the consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts while limiting foods that are high in saturated fats.
The Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet suggests a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread, potatoes, and more. It also utilizes olive oil as a monounsaturated fat source when cooking. While little red meat is recommended, fish and poultry can moderately be consumed on this diet. Additionally, and in moderation, wine can be consumed. The Mediterranean diet involves less saturated fat, and most of the calories are consumed through monounsaturated fats — which do not raise cholesterol levels as saturated fat would.
Although sticking to a diet is paramount in receiving the calories and nutrition for a healthy lifestyle, stocking your pantry with the proper items is just as important. It may be the case that the foods you are buying seem healthy at first glance, but ultimately are not.
Reading Food Labels
Food labels can be confusing, or somewhat misleading. One of the important things you will need to look at when reading food labels will be serving size. A product you may think is healthy may very well be if you stick to the serving size on the label. If you assume that a single package is a serving size, and you eat a whole package of something, you may be surprised to find that the serving size was only a portion of the product. Here, you have consumed multiple servings in one sitting, which when done long-term, may affect your diet and weight.
Calories (both per serving, and overall) warrant an investigation as well. To stick to your daily calorie count of any diet, knowing exactly how many calories you are ingesting can help you keep your daily caloric intake under control. It is additionally important to understand which calories are coming from fats and sugars.
Other items to be wary of while reading food labels include the number of carbs and protein, fiber, sodium, and sugar. Although you may need these things for a healthy diet, too much or too little could negatively affect your weight and health.
Identifying Nutrients in Food Labels
Make sure you understand the nutrients you are getting in the food that you buy — specifically, note that if it is high in calories, but low in nutrients, you may need to consider a different product. Identifying relevant nutrients on food labels is done by understanding both the food labels and the nutrients your body needs.
Understanding Fad Diets and Trends
Many diet fads suggest restricting or eliminating entire food groups. It is essential to understand what specific diet trends restrict (and promote) and to further understand if they will allow for all the nutrition an aging body needs.
Fasting and Limiting Calories
For healthy adults under 50, restricting calories may be beneficial. Additionally, in lab animals, evidence suggests that limiting calories (but not nutrients) helped to increase their longevity. Fasting and/or limiting calories may be healthy for some, however, there is not sufficient evidence to confirm whether or not it is a healthy option for all older adults.
Avoiding Unintentional Weight Loss
Protein and whole grains are both recommended as nutrients seniors need to stay healthy. To help prevent unintentional weight loss that may occur as adults age, high protein and whole-grain intake are recommended to help keep healthy weight goals on track.
What Are Preventative Dietary Changes for Specific Conditions?
Dietary changes have the potential to alleviate symptoms of or prevent, certain diseases/conditions. A dietary change is highly recommended and is one of the first steps to ease GERD, or heartburn, symptoms. Typically, it is the food that we eat that are significant contributors to the development of specific conditions.
GERD and Acid Reflux
GERD, and acid reflux-related symptoms such as heartburn, maybe a condition most directly related to diet. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be severely aggravated by eating and drinking certain things such as spicy foods, carbonated beverages, and more. It is crucial to understand if your acid reflux is severe enough to be or become GERD.
Chronic acid reflux can be different and cause a wide range of symptoms for people. However, the most common GERD symptoms include:
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Excess salivation;
- Gas and bloating;
- Pain or discomfort in the chest;
- Intolerance of certain foods and liquids;
- Bad breath, or a sour taste in your mouth.
If you have these symptoms frequently, you may need a medical professional to determine whether your acid reflux symptoms are GERD. A specialist may use the following tools to diagnose GERD:
- Upper GI Series;
- pH Monitoring;
- Patient History Surveys.
If you suffer symptoms of reflux twice or more per week or are diagnosed with GERD, you may want to consider evaluating making changes to your diet, alongside exploring other treatment options if your symptoms persist.
The most common first step when exploring treatment options for GERD is a lifestyle change, primarily through your diet. Lifestyle and dietary changes to control GERD symptoms include:
- Watching your diet;
- Eating smaller meals more frequently;
- Avoiding alcohol;
- Watching your weight;
- Avoiding reclining within three hours of eating;
- Raising your head by 6 to 8 inches when resting or sleeping;
- Quitting smoking;
- Reducing the pressure on your stomach.
Heart disease occurs when plaque develops in the arteries and blood vessels that lead to the heart. This plaque is a waxy substance that consists of cholesterol, fatty molecules, and minerals. Heart disease is often diagnosed alongside poor diet, unhealthy weight, and infrequent exercise. Some lifestyle changes to help battle heart disease include:
- The Mediterranean, Ornish, and DASH diets are hailed as the top three heart-healthy diets, as they are low in fats and cholesterol.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Avoiding alcohol.
- Quitting smoking.
Two of the major causes of type 2 diabetes are being overweight and remaining sedentary. Changes in diet can help overcome both of these primary contributors.
- Eating whole grains and healthy fats, while reducing sugary drinks and processed meat can have a significant impact on lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Instead of sugary drinks, consider water, coffee or tea, and nuts, beans, poultry, or fish instead of processed meat.
- Maintain a healthy level of activity and exercise, as approved by a doctor.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking.
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, which can be exacerbated by flare-ups. While there currently are no cures for most types of arthritis, this joint inflammation could be impacted by changing your eating habits.
- Oils and foods high in sodium, sugar, and alcohol are all foods that can cause inflammation and should be avoided by those with this condition.
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can have anti-inflammatory effects.
- The Mediterranean diet, high in fruits and vegetables, could also have positive effects for those with arthritis.
Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for the human body’s overall health. Due to the changes that aging adult experiences, their nutritional intake will need to be carefully evaluated. Understanding the nutrition, you need as an older adult cannot only help you manage your weight, it can help prevent or minimize the symptoms of several diseases and conditions.