Problem: You need fewer calories as you grow older because your metabolism slows down and you are (usually) less active physically but - and it's a big but - many of your nutrient needs increase.
Solution: That means, according to Kaleida Health Systems dietitian Barbara Sylvester, that you have to think about what you eat.
Make everything count.
"Go for the right foods," is Sylvester's advice, and stay away from junk foods like potato chips and cookies." Obesity is something to be avoided in later life because it increases the risk of diabetes and coronary disease.
Here are some specific nutrients you may need more of. Dietitians advise you to concentrate on them. (But as always, check with your physician before making radical changes in your diet.)
Calcium: This is especially important for women but calcium requirements for all healthy adults sharply increase after the age of 50. You need calcium to maintain strong bones.
Good calcium sources include milk, of course, but also yogurt and cheese. (You might want to add another serving to your diet.)
Calcium is also contained in broccoli, kale and other dark green vegetables and fish with bones in it like sardines, salmon and mackerel. Ask you health professional about calcium supplementation as well as taking a bone density test to be sure that everything is going along well.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D requirements also increase dramatically after the age of 50. Among other reasons, Vitamin D helps calcium to do its work. Fortified milk (almost all milk today is fortified) is a fine source of Vitamin D and sunshine helps your body make its own Vitamin D.
Unfortunately, the body's ability to produce its own calcium deceases with age so some supplements may be necessary. As always, speak to a health professional before you run off to the drugstore.
Protein: The need increases as you get older. You want to keep the protein stores in your body in ample supply. Animal sources are excellent. Think lean meat, poultry , fish, eggs (three eggs a week is fine for most people) and milk.
But there are vegetable sources, too. Beans, grains, vegetables, even tofu. (If you add tuna to a serving of pasta, for instance, the protein goes way up.)
Vitamin B12: One excellent source for people over 50 are fortified cereals. Because older people sometimes have trouble absorbing the vitamin as it naturally occurs in animal foods, you may want to supplement. Ask you doctor about this.
Fiber: Also called roughage. Important to help relieve constipation but may also help lower your blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Some evidence suggests it may help in the fight against certain cancers, too. Studies have shown that few people in the United States get enough fiber regardless of age.
Concentrate on whole grain, fruits, lentils and beans.
Water: You should be drinking six to eight (8-ounce) glasses per day to prevent constipation and dehydration. Keep that in mind because as you age your sensitivity to thirst may be reduced. You may not even know you need water.
Try to stay ahead of your thirst.
Antioxidants: These help the body build and repair cell damage and may even help in cancer prevention. One important antioxidant is Vitamin C, which also helps to strengthen the body's immune system. Find it in fruits and vegetables like citrus, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and cataloupe. (Deep orange or dark green color is a tipoff here.)
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. It can be found in whole grains, some vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Other factors to think about:
Vitamin Pills: As you may have noted above, many dietitians recommend taking a daily vitamin and mineral pill but, they caution, it's wise to check with your physician before you embark on the regimen. You want to be sure that those pills do not interact with any medication. Fat: The suggestion is the same for everyone regardless of age. No more that 30 percent of the calories in your diet should come from fat. Also, concentrate on "good fats" like olive oil and other liquid mono and polyunsaturated oils. Avoid solid fats like butter; avoid food fried in fat like potato chips.
Wine: The word to remember here is "moderation." A glass or two of wine a day (8 ounces total) is fine, even good for you.