Submitted by Wendy Chirieleison, MS Ed
Community Health Educator
Eat Smart, Be Strong, Live Long!
It is essential to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, especially as you get older. Eating well and getting enough exercise can decrease older adults’ chances of getting chronic diseases, disabilities, and can increase life expectancy. Many do not consider that entering older adulthood means facing new and unique challenges beyond a change in weight and appetite.
In September of 2011, the USDA released a new publication called “My Plate for Older Adults,” a chart which is a food pyramid style guide describing what older adults should be eating. The chart specifies that ages 60-74 should be eating 2 ½ cups of vegetables, 1 ½ cups of fruits, 6 oz. grains (3 oz. should be whole grains), 5 oz. protein, and 3 cups of dairy each day. The chart also gives examples for each food group, and states that the caloric intake should total 1,800 calories per day.
According to Tufts University, a school that focuses on nutrition, it is recommended that these calories consist of foods that are high in vitamins and minerals and low in salt, sugars, and fats, especially trans fats and saturated fats (Mayer 2011). The My Plate chart also recommends physical activity such as walking, playing with your pet or grandchild, gardening, or another activity that you can enjoy with your friends (USDA 2011).
In preparing this My Plate chart, the USDA took into consideration some of the concerns older adults face while trying to eat a healthy diet, such as not getting the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, and exercise each day; ease of food preparation; food costs; access to certain foods; and oral health problems, like difficulties in chewing and swallowing foods.
The Administration On Aging reports that oral health is the most overlooked issue related to poor health and nutrition in older adults. Dry mouth, inflammation of the gums due to poorly fitting dentures, root decay, and gum disease are just some of the oral health issues that older adults experience. Poor oral health affects nutrition because the digestive process begins at the time food enters the mouth. Saliva contains important enzymes that begin breaking down foods as the teeth chew the food, making it manageable to swallow. Poor oral health makes this process difficult. About one-third of adults over age 65 have untreated tooth decay. Severe gum disease can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease.
STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES
- Be sure to schedule regular appointments with your dentist.
- Tell the dentist about your oral hygiene routine to be sure that you are doing everything you can to ensure proper oral hygiene.
- When you plan your weekly menu, incorporate items listed in weekly sales flyers where you normally shop.
- Take advantage of fresh produce when it is on sale. If you can, blanch fresh vegetables (boil briefly and drain off excess water) and put them into freezer bags.
- If you can not purchase fresh vegetables, opt for frozen. Canned vegetables can contain sodium or other unwanted ingredients.
- When preparing foods, consider making extras that you can freeze in divided containers. Always label and date foods that go in the freezer to be sure of their freshness.
- If you have a hard time exercising for 30 minutes at a time, break it up into two 15 minute or three 10 minute intervals.
For a free copy of My Plate For Older Adults or for more information, contact HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. You can e-mail us at email@example.com, see our website at nlh.org, or visit our wellness center at 213 Harrison Street Ext. in Johnstown, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.