Let’s face it. Getting older has its challenges. Your little black dress is suddenly too little.
Your bones seem a bit creaky. And those laugh lines around your mouth no longer make you smile.
“As you age, it’s not business as usual anymore,” said Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, and a Miami Herald columnist. “You have to make changes to age with vibrancy and health.”
But take heart. The experts agree that what you eat plays a major role in how well you age.
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“There’s no anti-aging foods,” Rarback said. “But your diet and exercise can maximize your health.”
Women face hormonal changes related to menopause, “but it doesn’t have to be downhill from there,” said Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health South Florida. “It’s a normal part of life.”
As part of that aging process, women face a drop in estrogen, which is essential to bone health, weight control and the ability to absorb calcium and Vitamin D, among other important roles, said Gina Sweat, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
Gaining weight is a big complaint as women age. Clothes fit differently or don’t fit at all. You need to exercise more to work off that extra slice of pizza. And then there are those belly bulges.
“There’s a change in the distribution of fat in our bodies and part of that is hormonal, a drop of estrogen as you age,” Rarback said. “You start gathering more fat around the middle. That’s something to be concerned about because fat around the middle is more connected to heart disease.”
It’s essential to maximize the nutrition you’re getting from food and give up highly sugared, non-nutritious foods,” she said. “You can’t eat as many calories as you used to without gaining weight.”
Aside from cutting back on calories, women have to pay attention to what vitamins and minerals they need from food to supplement what they’ve lost.
“Making sure you get enough calcium and Vitamin D is very important,” Sweat said. The National Osteoporosis Foundation advises that women 50 and younger should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 800 units of Vitamin D daily while women over 50 should get at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 800 to 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin D daily.
While some women may need calcium or Vitamin D supplements, Dr. Jose Lampreabe of Mount Sinai Medical Center cautioned against buying large doses over the counter. If you’re concerned about being deficient, your physician can check your levels, he said.
It can be particularly hard to get enough Vitamin D in the diet.
“Vitamin D is naturally available in only a few foods, including fatty fish like wild caught mackerel, salmon and tuna,” according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Vitamin D is also added to milk and to some brands of other dairy products, orange juice, soymilk and cereals.”
Good sources of calcium include:
▪ Low-fat milk (it doesn’t have to be cow’s milk if it’s fortified with calcium and Vitamin D)
▪ Reduced fat cheese
▪ Plain yogurt. Lampreabe advises consumers to be aware of the sugar and fat in yogurt.
▪ Green leafy vegetables. Broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage are good sources of calcium, Sweat said. Eight ounces of collard greens, for instance, has an estimated 360 milligrams of calcium compared to 300 in eight ounces of milk.
▪ Sardines and salmon canned, with bones
“As you enter into menopause, your estrogen levels are decreased, which places you into a higher risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis,” Lampreabe said. “A bone density scan can check for one of these conditions.”
Developing a more active lifestyle is also important for cardiovascular health and overall vitality.
Getting enough protein is important to maintain and rebuild muscles, Rarback said. “You want to spread your protein out during the day, with about 20 grams a meal.”
Protein sources include:
▪ Lean meat, chicken or turkey, fish, seafood
▪ Milk, cheese and other dairy products
▪ Beans and peas
▪ Soy products
▪ Nuts and seeds
With aging, comes the need to reduce risks of heart problems. You can help slow the buildup of plaque inside your arteries and fight heart disease, Sweat said, by eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains and foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.
“Salmon is a healthy protein and a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids,” she said.
Walnuts are also considered a heart-healthy food — in moderation.
As you age, here are some other dietary issues to consider:
▪ Drink more water. “As we age, our thirst tends to decrease so be sure to drink water,” Sweat said.
▪ “You want foods loaded with antioxidants,” Rarback said. Eat a rainbow of veggies and fruits to boost your immune system and fight heart disease, cancer and obesity. Along with berries, green leafy veggies and other super foods, she includes beets. They’re “an unbelievable food,” Rarback said. “They’re an antioxidant high in folate and magnesium potassium. They’re good for lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow.’’
▪ Fruits and veggies are also good for your skin and your eyes.
▪ High-fiber grains, along with fruits and veggies, can help guard against stomach problems and aid digestion.
▪ Leeks, artichokes and fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, are good for healthy gut bacteria.
“Enhance the power of your food” by adding spices, including the superstars turmeric and ginger. “Spices and herbs have healing or medicinal properties,” Rarback said. They’re also an alternative to salt and “make flavors pop.”
“Having a positive mentality makes a difference,” Talamas said. “Despite the changes we face, with our diet and exercise, we can maintain a healthy lifestyle as we age.”