The famous Hippocratic saying, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” continues to be good advice today, especially when it comes to nutrition for healthy aging. We know that good nutrition helps promote well-being and prevent disease. Overall, health is affected by lifestyle, environment, and genetics, so it would be irresponsible to suggest that a healthy diet alone will prevent all health problems. While genetics and to some extent our environment are fixed, we can take steps to optimize the way we fuel our bodies as we age.
In fact, many common chronic diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and some cancers can be prevented with good nutrition. Although medication comes at an additional cost and potential side effects, eating well is painless, relatively easy, and can be done on a budget. Here are some key nutritional considerations for a longer life and a healthier mind and body:
Choose whole foods rich in nutrients
The best way to ensure a nutrient-dense diet is to eat whole foods that have not been stripped of their nutrients and fiber. Unfortunately, 77 percent of American groceries purchased are medium or heavily processed. Minimally processed foods like canned unsalted beans, dried herbs, and frozen vegetables aren’t the problem. Products with refined flour, sugar, and oils as the main ingredients provide energy with little additional nutritional value. Choose whole grain products with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and assess your snacking habits for refined and processed foods.
Limit or avoid alcohol
It’s no surprise that drinking alcohol, especially in excess, can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, digestive problems, and some types of cancer. However, the proportion of alcohol considered to be a moderate intake may come as a surprise. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Recently, a federal committee of health experts evaluating the latest data recommended reducing the number of daily alcoholic drinks for men from two to one. While some people may find non-alcoholic alternatives to help reduce their drinking, others may need to seek the support they need to change their drinking habits.
Stay away from unhealthy fats
There is a lot of misinformation out there about fats. When it comes to dietary fat, both quantity and quality matter. Processed foods like commercial baked goods, coffee creamers, fried foods, and potato chips are often made with hydrogenated oils known to increase inflammation and negatively impact heart health. Foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known to have a beneficial impact on inflammation and blood cholesterol in addition to other health benefits. Sources of these healthy fats include nuts, flax seeds, oily fish, olive oil, and avocado.
Consider your protein sources
Protein is a very important nutrient and dietary sources vary widely. Lean protein sources that provide more protein per serving are ideal. These include skinless chicken breast and turkey breast, pork tenderloin and fish as well as eggs and egg whites, beans, tofu, and low fat dairy products. Take advantage of low-fat cooking methods like baking, grilling, steaming, and poaching, which require little or no added fat for preparation.
Eating well can be affordable
It is a common misconception that healthy eating is expensive. While some healthy foods are expensive, they don’t necessarily have to come in fancy packaging with trendy ingredients. In fact, some of the healthiest foods with the lowest price tags don’t have any packaging at all. Broccoli, spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots and squash are all high in nutrients and fiber and cost between less than a dollar and two dollars a pound. Dried beans and grains like lentils, chickpeas, rice, and quinoa are economical, especially when purchased in bulk. Chicken and pork can be purchased in larger quantities when they are on sale, then frozen raw for several months.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and counseling to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter @halfacupRD