Nutrition for Aging
Better health care and improved standards of living enable present-day humans to live to unprecedented ages. Scientists have discovered that certain foods, and better nutrition generally, can improve a person’s quality of life. Although maximum life span may be genetically determined, according to scientific research only 30 percent of aging characteristics are genetically based. Implementing a plan for better nutrition can combat the effects of aging.
Why Use Nutrition for the Effects of Aging?
Some “miracle foods” that create a virtual “fountain of youth” for humans have been around for centuries. Some foods and diet plans have been shown to boost the immune system, which in turn offers protection from various cancers, diabetes, arthritis, and other diseases.
A healthy diet that fights aging should include the following:
- Berries—containing fiber and Vitamin C, and an antioxidant known as ellagic acid, which has been shown helpful in preventing and treating cataracts, cancer, and constipation
- Broccoli—contains fiber and beta-carotene, known cancer-fighting agents
- Beans—with fiber that can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and possibly reduce the risk of breast cancer
- Carrots—significant amounts of beta-carotene that improves night vision and protects against heart disease, cancer, and macular degeneration
- Fish—high in Omega-3 fatty acids that fight heart disease, and possibly colon and breast cancer.
The advantages of nutrition in combating aging cannot be overstated. People might not live forever—but with the advancements in awareness of healthy lifestyle practices, the population of those living 100 years or more is increasing every year.
What is Good Nutrition?
A healthy diet includes the nutrients necessary to maintain optimal health at any age. Nutrition is the term that refers to structure of that diet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and health care professionals, a healthy diet includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and clean water.
The USDA introduced the Food Guide Pyramid (since 2005 known as My Pyramid) to assist people in determining a healthy diet for themselves and their families. Other groups have since expanded the guidelines, introducing various pyramids to include other diets such as Asian, Mediterranean, Latin American, and vegetarian and vegan menus. Nutritional guidelines that do not account for individual or ethnic tastes can be counterproductive. Eliminating saturated fats in a diet plan might be one thing, for instance—but not accounting for the protein necessary for a vegetarian is something else.
The basic premise of offering the guideline of the food pyramid is to place food in categories—meat, dairy products, beans, produce, grains, etc., and to offer suggestions of how much of each category is desirable in a day. Though some foods might be touted as “miracle foods” and are certainly excellent food choices, no single food offers the human body everything it requires to stay healthy. But the truth is, optimum health is an attainable goal no matter what a person’s age or medical condition, through the observation of some nutritional guidelines that include the following principles:
- Eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Reduction of saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol
- Limiting sweets and salt
- Moderation in alcoholic beverages, if any
- Portion control to limit calorie intake
What is Aging?
Aging refers to the decline in health over a period of years in the human body’s physiological functions. These declining abilities might include any of the following:
- Reflex movement
- Vision loss
- Hearing or hearing loss
- Short-term memory loss and learning
- Decline in physical strength and endurance
- Digestion difficulties
- Cardiovascular function
- Immunity issues
What Causes the Ill Effects of Aging?
Some professional healthcare and holistic health practitioners argue that the decline in physiological functions—known more commonly as aging—is not always necessary if a healthy diet and lifestyle are maintained. One theory based on scientific research indicates that a phenomenon known as “oxidative damage” occurs to cells. This process causes damage to genetic materials, proteins, cell membranes and other cellular workings in the human body, and is what begins the aging process and its effects.
Healthcare and holistic health professionals might also argue that a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet rich in anti-oxidants and regular exercise, along with genetic factors will offset aging and its effects, especially certain diseases and conditions that might accelerate aging.
Finding a Specialist
Consulting your primary physician is recommended when treating potentially serious illnesses. Seeking the advice of a nutritionist is also part of a healthy plan for action. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health can educate you more on healthy nutrition and the current research into the prevention of aging. Seeking the consultation of a professional nutritionist will provide the most effective guidance on improving your diet and combating the effects of aging.
“Diet and Aging—Exploring the Link,” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
Video lecture on Diet and Aging, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
“Food Pyramid: An option for better eating” provides guidance on balanced eating from the Mayo Clinic.
Nutrition for Seniors“ from the National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health.
The World’s Healthiest Foods“ is a website presented by the George Mateljan Foundation, a non-profit focused on educating the public on good nutrition.