Eating right plays a huge role in maintaining good health, which is especially crucial for the aging population, where malnutrition is associated with a weaker immune system and slower healing. But with all the foods out there and all the commotion over one vitamin supplementation over the other, which are the ones we should pay attention to?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, emphasizes “nutrients of concern”, or nutrients that are generally consumed in amounts less than recommended, which can pose a health risk. The purpose of the report is to provide information to encourage healthy eating, to promote healthy weight and reduce the risk of diet-related chronic illnesses, and functions as the primary source of information for policy makers and nutrition educators. As discoveries in the scientific field are constantly being made, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is republished every five years to reflect new, emerging evidence and the implications it may have on our health.
Thus, it is important to keep an eye on these “nutrients of concern” as consuming these in their recommended amounts is beneficial for overall health. Check out the following list of 10 foods, which contain significant amounts of these nutrients, and others, to promote good health in seniors and the aging class:
Yogurt is a great source of calcium, with one cup providing a whopping 300-450mg of calcium. It is recommended that women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70 consume 1200mg of calcium per day. Men between the ages of 51-69 should consume 1000mg of calcium per day (1). Calcium is essential for bone and teeth health, as it plays a vital role in bone mineralization. Maintaining a proper consumption of calcium is necessary to prevent loss of bone density and reduce risk of osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and porous bones, caused by a long-term low calcium intake.
Yogurt also contains probiotics, or “good” bacteria, that help maintain proper gut flora in the human body and aids in digestion.
For those wishing to reduce their intake of added sugar, opt for a plain, unsweetened brand of yogurt. Top off one cup of yogurt with one tablespoon of organic honey and 1/4 cup of your choice of chopped berries for a kick of vitamin C.
Dry Roasted Sunflower Seeds
Vitamin E, found in sunflower seeds, functions as an antioxidant in the human body. Antioxidants are capable of repairing damage in the human body and protects lipids, proteins, and DNA. Vitamin E is also essential during the formation of red blood cells. Good sources of vitamin E also include: almonds, spinach, and pumpkin.
Fish is a great source of omega-3. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming about 8 oz. more fish per week, as increased consumption of omega-3’s in fish and seafood is associated with less cardiac deaths. While some people are worried about mercury levels in seafood, salmon is one of the species that contain relatively low levels of mercury. Other species include trout, anchovies, Atlantic mackerel, and oysters (2).
Tofu is a versatile food, made from soybeans, that contains high amounts of protein and calcium. Protein is one of the macronutrients essential for life. Not only does protein provide energy (calories), but it is also used in repairing tissues, forming enzymes necessary for chemical reactions inside our bodies, and much more. Tofu is also an excellent source of calcium. Though it varies from brand to brand (check the label!), a half-cup of tofu can contain approx. 400 mg of calcium, or the same amount as one cup of yogurt!
Potassium, found in bananas and other fruits, is another one of the “nutrients of concern” to look out for. Potassium functions in fluid balance in cells and works as an electrolyte. Having a low intake of potassium may be associated with elevated blood pressure, as well.
Fiber, a component in many fruits and vegetables, has two main functions depending on which type of fiber it is – insoluble fiber or soluble fiber. Guavas contains higher amounts of insoluble fiber, which aids in bowel movement by speeding up the passage of waste through the digestive tract. Getting enough insoluble fiber in the diet can reduce risk of a condition called diverticulitis, which is inflammation or infection of pouches in the wall of the colon.
Lentils are seeds in the legume family that contain a high amount of soluble fiber. Consuming enough soluble fiber, as part of a healthy diet, can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering the level of cholesterol in the body. Soluble fiber achieves this by binding to circulating cholesterol throughout the body. This cholesterol then leaves the body through waste, thus lowering the amount of cholesterol still present in the body.
Vitamin D, found in mushrooms, works hand in hand with calcium to promote bone health. Although not much is known about vitamin D at this point, emerging research hints at vitamin D having a possible role in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Whole Wheat Breads
Apart from providing more fiber than refined bread, whole wheat products contain more B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, iron, magnesium, and copper than refined grains. This is because during the refining process, the bran (outer layer) and the germ of the whole wheat grain, which contain these nutrients, is removed.
Spinach contains high amounts of magnesium, which is needed for proper nerve and muscle function. Magnesium is a cofactor in the chemical reactions in the body and also functions in control of blood sugar levels. Low levels of magnesium have also been linked to: high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, and cardiovascular disease (3).