As a senior, you face a number of nutrition challenges as you age. You may be less hungry because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. You may lose interest in eating because of changes in their sense of smell and taste. You may have health problems, such as gastrointestinal changes and dental problems, that make eating uncomfortable. And you may be on medications that suppress hunger or interfere with eating.
Another factor is that 5.2 million seniors are considered “food insecure” according to a study by Feeding America, which means they lack consistent access to enough food.
Proper nutrition is vitally important for body health and brain health, too. Good nutrition can help fight off cognitive decline, and may help in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Find out what you need to know about good nutrition for seniors, the best foods and nutrients to eat for brain health, and some foods and substances to avoid.
The Importance of Good Nutrition As You Age
Good nutrition is always important, at any age. Along with maintaining energy and weight, the right foods may also help prevent diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. With poor nutrition, you may face complications including chronic health problems, lower energy levels and weakened immune systems.
How Seniors Can Meet Their Nutritional Needs
You should consider these factors when considering nutritional needs, from MyPlate.gov:
- Drink water often. You may lose your sense of thirst as they age, making dehydration a real risk. Stay away from added sugars or salts, and learn which beverages are the better choices for your circumstances.
- Eat a variety of foods. Use the food groups as a guideline, and try to eat from each one regularly. Choose foods with little or no added saturated fats, sodium or sugar.
- Focus on nutrients. You often need support with calcium, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
- Get enough protein. That protein, which can help maintain muscle mass, can be taken in through such meats as lean beef, white meat poultry and seafood, or dairy, eggs and beans.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Watch portions and limit snacks to healthy options, for example carrots or celery, supplemented with peanut butter or raisins.
How Foods Can Help or Hurt Your Brain Health
Brain health goes hand in hand with body health, but there are special considerations with the brain. Certain nutrients are best for brain health, and certain foods can hurt the brain.
The Best Nutrients To Help Support Brain Health
A study by the National Institutes of Health confirms that specific nutrients can help support brain health, which boosts cognition and emotional health.
Some of the best nutrients include:
- Antioxidants – Antioxidants help protect the brain from damage and might also help with inflammation and memory loss. Broccoli, carrots, potatoes and spinach are all high in antioxidants.
- B vitamins – B vitamins like B12 and folic acid help make and maintain brain chemicals. They also break food down into energy for the whole body. Good sources of B vitamins include dairy, eggs, leafy greens, legumes, meat, poultry and seafood.
- Choline – This nutrient is used in many chemical reactions in the body. It’s important for the development of normal brain function and in the maintenance of the nervous system. Like B vitamins, choline is found in dairy, eggs, fish, meat and poultry.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Fatty acids create the cell structure and are vital for the proper function of the nervous system. Fish and other seafood, along with nuts and seeds, are high in omega-3s.
- Vitamin E – This vitamin protects cells from being destroyed by other processes in the body. Vitamin E is found in nuts and seeds, greens and some seafood.
It’s important to take in these nutrients from a variety of food sources in a healthy, balanced diet.
> Read “The Top 10 Foods for a Healthy Brain”
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The Worst Foods for Your Brain Health
There are several foods that can negatively impact your brain. Healthline lists these seven worst foods for your brain:
- Alcohol – Consumed in excess, alcohol can harm the brain. Chronic use decreases brain volume and disrupts neurotransmitters in the brain. It also can lead to behavioral changes, memory loss and sleep disruption.
- Aspartame – This artificial sweetener is used in many sugar-free products, but has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems. It also may impair memory and increase stress in the brain.
- Highly processed foods – These convenient foods tend to be high in fats, salt and sugar, and low in nutrients. They cause weight gain and have a negative effect on your brain.
- Mercury – The heavy metal mercury can contaminate fish, which when ingested by humans concentrates in the brain, kidneys and liver. Mercury toxicity disrupts the central nervous system and neurotransmitters and stimulates neurotoxins, resulting in brain damage. Mercury can be found mostly in wild seafood, so intake should be limited.
- Refined carbohydrates – These include highly processed grains, such as white flour, and sugar. They can spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. A study published in the medical journal Nutrients says high glycemic load can impair memory. Excessive carbohydrates may also cause inflammation, which is recognized as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Sugary drinks – Energy drinks, soda, sports drinks and even fruit juice can contain too much sugar. An excessive intake of sugary drinks can increase the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, which is a risk indicator for Alzheimer’s disease. High blood sugar also increases risks of dementia, even for those without diabetes.
- Trans fats – Natural unsaturated fats are not an issue when consumed in animal products like dairy and meat, but artificial trans fats in frosting, margarine, pre-packaged foods, shortening and snack foods can impair brain health. Studies have found an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, cognitive decline, decreased brain volume and poor memory with higher consumption of artificial trans fats.
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