Eat well to age better

Written by by Laurie Syring, RD/LD. Posted in October

No one likes the idea of getting older, but like death and taxes, aging is a certainty for us all. 
What’s more, our overall population is getting older. By the year 2030, older adults will account for around 20 percent of the population—double what it is now. Two factors are contributing to this phenomenon: longer life spans (more and more Americans are living longer) and the aging of the baby boomers.


While we can’t avoid getting older, how we age is another matter altogether. As most people are aware, many factors can impact our quality of life as we age. Examples include chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, and diabetes; inactivity; social isolation; depression; economic hardship; taking multiple medications; and poor diet. This being “Eating Well,” let’s focus on that last point—poor diet—and discuss five key nutritional strategies for keeping your mind sharp and fighting frailty as you age:

1. Get sufficient protein

As she ordered banana-nut bread and stuffing for her dinner at Bob Evans, my mother-in-law would say, “I ate chicken yesterday!” Gosh, I miss her!

As you age, it’s normal to lose muscle mass and mobility. But you can fight back with a balanced diet that distributes your protein intake evenly throughout the day—every day. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal. For breakfast, work in eggs, Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, and milk-based smoothies. For lunch and dinner, think peanut butter, cottage cheese, tuna, chicken, hamburger, low-sodium lunch meats, milk, and yogurt. If you exercise regularly, this dietary tactic will help with your body’s muscle-building process.

2. Skip the soda pop

I recently had an elderly patient who drank one to two liters of Pepsi per day but ate very little food because “I’m just not hungry!” Keep in mind that sugary and caffeinated drinks tend to deliver a lot of extra calories and cinch the appetite. Some studies even suggest that sugary drinks increase inflammation in the body and contribute to faster aging.

Instead of drinking sugary soda, learn to love water—64 ounces a day over and above other drinks. If you’re not thrilled with the taste of the water from your tap, try reverse-osmosis or filtered water.

3. Consume Omega-3s

These fish oils support heart health, brain function, and memory during aging. Also, eating fish more than twice a week has been linked to improved muscle strength. Now, I’m not talking about the fried perch served up at your local VFW hall—no matter how delicious it might be. Choose sardines, tuna, salmon, herring, and halibut. And be sure to consult your doctor before taking fish oil pills.

4. Build a healthy gut

As you age, so does your gut. And as your gut ages, beneficial bacteria and other microbes that reside there tend to decrease their activity and get supplanted by more harmful bacteria that can weaken your immune function and increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and constipation. Besides supporting your gut health with probiotics such as yogurt, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to nourish good bacteria. Try fresh produce from your local farmers market or a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm.

5. Build strong bones

Mobility depends upon strong bones, and in order to stay strong, your bones need more than just calcium. Other nutrients they demand include Vitamin D, magnesium, and DHA. Daily exercise is highly encouraged as well. Choose a well-rounded bone-health supplement and try to get your calcium from sources like low-fat dairy products, canned seafood, edible bones, and kale.

Many adults in this country are robust and active throughout most of their senior years. However, there are those individuals who are neither energetic nor fit, suffer from multiple medical ailments, and ultimately become frail. The fight against frailty begins with good nutrition and daily exercise habits. Pay careful attention to the foods you eat and the exercise you choose. Also, try to maintain close social contacts and spend time with others. Being with people, eating right, and feeling strong all have a positive effect on your well-being and morale. Of course, checking on your nutritional health on a regular basis makes good sense as well.❦

University of Toledo Medical Center