Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect seniors against the onset of a serious eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Researchers did a fresh analysis of a one-year dietary survey conducted in the early 1990s. The poll involved nearly 2,400 seniors between the ages of 65 and 84 living in Maryland’s Eastern Shore region, where fish and shellfish are eaten routinely.
While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD had consumed less fish and seafood containing omega-3 fatty acids. After their food intake was assessed, participants underwent eye examinations. About 450 had AMD, including 68 who had an advanced stage of the disease, which can lead to severe vision impairment or blindness. Prior evidence suggested that dietary zinc is similarly protective against AMD, so the researchers looked to see if zinc consumption from a diet of oysters and crabs reduced risk of AMD, but no such association was seen.
The researchers believe that the low dietary zinc levels relative to zinc supplements could account for the absence of such a link. However, they cautioned against people to start taking omega-3 supplements to protect against AMD based on this study because they are not sure that the above results have sufficient power to draw any conclusions. The correlation is important but larger studies with longer term follow-up are needed before being able to properly assess the impact.
A new study shows following a Mediterranean style diet rich in vegetables, olive oil, and fish may keep the mind sharp and slow age-related cognitive decline.The diet typified by the Italians, Greeks, and other Mediterranean cultures has already been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. But this and other studies are now suggesting that the diet may also have healthy benefits for the mind.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, non-refined cereals, olive oil, and moderate wine consumption, usually at meals. Researchers found older adults who followed the diet more closely had slower rates of age-related cognitive decline than those who didn't, even after adjusting for other factors such as educational level. “The more we can incorporate vegetables, olive oil, and fish into our diets and moderate wine consumption, the better for our aging brains and bodies,” says Christy Tangney, PhD, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University, in a news release.
In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed information gathered by the ongoing Chicago Health and Aging Project, which follows 3,759 adults over the age of 65 living on the South Side of Chicago. Every three years, the participants took tests of memory and basic math skills and filled out a questionnaire on how often they eat 139 different foods. The study follow-up time was 7.6 years on average.
Researchers looked at how closely the participants followed a Mediterranean diet and then compared it to their scores on age-related cognitive decline. Out of a maximum score of 55 for total adherence to a Mediterranean diet, the average score was 28. The results showed those with higher than average scores had a slower rate of age-related mental decline than those with lower scores. Researchers also looked at how closely the participants followed the Healthy Eating Index-2005, which is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They found no relationship between adherence to this type of diet and the rate of age-related cognitive decline.
Older adults who eat a healthy diet tend to live longer than those who indulge in desserts and high-fat dairy products, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. With the projected doubling of our older population by 2030, what people put on their plates may be even more important.
For 10 years, researchers followed the eating habits of 2,500 healthy seniors aged 70 to 79. They found people who ate ice cream, whole milk and other high fat-dairy items had a 40% higher risk of dying during the decade of study than those who ate a healthful diet. People who ate sweets such as doughnuts, cakes, and cookies had a 37% higher risk of dying in that same 10 year study period.
The seniors were placed into one of the following 6 dietary categories depending upon what they ate: 1) Healthy foods 2) High-fat dairy products 3) Meat, fried foods and alcohol 4) Breakfast cereal 5) Refined grains and 6) Sweets and desserts. The people with the more healthful diets not only lived longer they also reported having a better quality of life, for a longer period of time than others.
“Our study and several previous studies suggest that it may be important what people eat at any age and that people can perhaps increase their quality of life and survival by following a healthy diet,” explains lead author Amy Anderson, Postdoctoral Researcher with the University of Maryland's Department of Nutrition and Food Science.
Eating healthy meant including more low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish in the diet as opposed to meat, fried foods, sweets, highly sugared drinks and other fatty foods. The healthy group got only 3% of their calories from high-fat dairy products such as cheese and ice cream, for example, while the high-fat dairy group got 17% of their calories from these foods. The healthier group also ate fewer sweets with only 6% of their calories coming from these treats compared to 25% by those in the desserts group.
The study noted that in the past century, the leading causes of death were from infectious diseases. Now people are dying from chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, which are often tied to what we eat.
“I think this research is important, especially now with the baby boomers entering these older age groups. So if people have a higher quality of life and survival , if they're healthier, this can reduce the cost of health care and improve people's daily lives in general,” says Anderson.
The new data was used to create the International Database on Longevity (IDL), http://www.supercentenarians.org/. “The IDL is the first reliable record of scientifically verified data about supercentenarians on an international scope”, says Heiner Maier from the MPIDR. “It is the best existing account of mortality beyond the age of 110.”
Finding the supercentenarians was an unusual task for the demographers, as they could not rely on standard statistical methods. In each country the scientists designed their own strategy of how to identify probable candidates of the super old, and then prove their age by locating official documents that confirmed their date of birth and date of death (or current age if still living).
But there were challenges. In the late 19th century, when the supercentenarians were born, many countries didn't have a central birth register, and often original documents were lost, misplaced or forgotten. So the scientists needed to search through a massive amount of certificates, census lists, death registers and the paper files of universities and health and security administrations to identify supercentenarians.
The findings varied between countries. In the United States 341 supercententarians were eventually found (309 women and 32 men), whereas in the much smaller country of Denmark only two women were verified as being over 110. In some cases going through all of the records would have been logistically impossible. In Germany, for instance, the researchers would have had to sort through records of roughly 8000 Residence Registry Offices. Luckily, however, researchers found a much faster method – they asked the Office of the German President for help. The President keeps a directory of residents older than 100 in order to send birthday congratulations. With the list in hand the researchers easily tracked down 17 supercentenarians.
The record holder in longevity is still the French woman Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. The book “Supercentenarians” celebrates her life – how she met the painter Vincent van Gogh when she was 13, how she later allowed herself one glass of port and one cigarette a day, and how she liked good food and wine, including cakes and chocolate, which she ate every day. When the demographers James Vaupel and Bernard Jeune, two of the authors of “Supercentenarians,” visited her at age 120, she remarked that the most important thing in her long life was that “I had fun. I am having fun.”
Chris Mortensen's long life is also detailed in the book. Born in Denmark, he died at 115 in the United States. Still the record holder as the world's oldest living man, at his advanced age he still smoked cigars, and lived as long as the Dutch woman Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper. Despite being born prematurely with a weight of only three pounds, she nevertheless avoided major life-threatening diseases until her nineties, when she was diagnosed with a breast cancer, and ultimately died of stomach cancer. The African American woman Bettie Wilson who died at the age of 115 even survived a gall bladder surgery at age 114. And Elizabeth Bolden, also an African American woman, who was deeply religious and had ten great-great-great grandchildren, was allegedly completely mentally fit and was able to recount all the major details of her life on her 112th birthday.
What is striking is that many of the super old avoided dementia, at least until shortly before they died. Now researchers want to expand the use of the International Database on Longevity (IDL) and use its data to investigate mortality at advanced age and the reasons for an extra long life. But these reasons are still elusive. So far the only thing for certain is that being a woman is clearly advantageous, since ninety percent of those celebrating their 115th birthday were women. Having ancestors who lived exceptionally long played as little a role as economic background and half of the supercentenarians had no children. It is unclear, however, whether this evidence will remain constant with future supercentenarians. The search for the secret of super old age has only just begun.
Good nutrition is important at every stage of life, from infancy through late adulthood. The basics of a balanced diet remain the same but individual nutritional needs change as you grow older. No matter what your age, it is never too late to start living a healthier life.
Whether you are 50 or 85, active or homebound, your food choices will affect your overall health in the years ahead. The risk for certain diseases associated with aging such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes can be reduced with a lifestyle that includes healthy eating. Good nutrition also helps in the treatment and recovery from illness. While healthy living can't turn back the clock, it can help you feel good longer.
Eating healthfully means consuming a variety of good foods each day. Food provides the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water you need for good health. For one reason or another your body may not be getting the right amounts of these nutrients.
There are several factors that indicate an increased risk for poor nutrition. If you have three or more of the risk factors listed below consult with Nastaran or your doctor:
- ill health
- poor eating habits
- unexpected weight gain or loss
- taking medications
- poor dental health
- economic hardship
- loneliness and lack of social contacts
- the inability to care for yourself
Due to loss of loved ones, health problems, trouble paying bills, or other reasons, many older people feel lonely, sad, or stressed in their daily lives. Feelings like these may cause you to lose energy, not feel like doing anything, not eat enough, or overeat. Being good to yourself may help you to cope with your feelings and improve your energy level, eating habits, and health. Here are some ideas for being good to yourself:
- Get enough sleep.
- Stay connected with family and friends.
- Join a walking group, or other social group.
- Surround yourself with people whose company you enjoy.Volunteer or get active with groups in your community.
- Try a part-time job at a place you would enjoy working for a few hours a week.
- Watch a funny movie and laugh.
- Take up a hobby such as playing cards, gardening, cooking, or dancing.
Remember, it's never too late to improve your eating plan, be more physically active, and be good to yourself for a healthier life. If you need to talk, make an appointment to see Nastaran.
How Much Should I Eat?
How much you should eat depends on how active you are. If you eat more calories than your body uses, you gain weight.
What are calories? Calories are a way to count how much energy is in food. You use the energy you get from food to do the things you need to do each day.
Just counting calories is not enough for making healthy choices. For example, a medium banana, 1 cup of flaked cereal, 2-1/2 cups of cooked spinach, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1 cup of 1% milk–all have roughly the same number of calories. But, the foods are different in many ways. Some have more of the nutrients you might need than others do. Milk gives you more calcium than a banana, and peanut butter gives you more protein than cereal. And a banana is likely to make you feel fuller than a tablespoon of peanut butter.
How many calories do people over age 50 need each day?
- who is not physically active needs about 1,600 calories
- who is somewhat active needs about 1,800 calories
- who has an active lifestyle needs about 2,000-2,200 calories
- who is not physically active needs about 2,000 calories
- who is somewhat active needs about 2,200-2,400 calories
- who has an active lifestyle needs about 2,400-2,800 calories
Here's a tip: Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all days of the week.
How Much Is on My Plate?
How does the food on your plate compare to how much you should be eating? For example, one very large chicken breast could be more from the meat/beans group than you are supposed to eat in a whole day. Here are some general ways you can check:
3 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish = deck of cards
½ cup of fruit, rice, pasta, or ice cream = ½ baseball
1 cup of salad greens = baseball
1-1/2 ounces of cheese = 4 stacked dice
1 teaspoon of butter or margarine = 1 dice (or die)
2 tablespoons of peanut butter = ping pong ball
1 cup of flaked cereal or a baked potato = fist
Read the Label
At first, reading labels on many packaged foods may take some time. The facts there can help you make better food choices. Labels have a Nutrition Facts panel. It tells how much protein, carbohydrates, fats, sodium, key vitamins and minerals, and calories are in a serving. The panel also shows how many servings are in the package—be careful because sometimes what you think is one serving is really more.
Each can, bottle, or package label also has an ingredients list. Items are listed from largest amount to smallest.
Having Problems with Food?
Does your favorite chicken dish taste different? As you grow older, your sense of taste and sense of smell may change. Foods may seem to have lost flavor. Also, medicines can change how food tastes. They can also make you feel less hungry. Talk to your doctor about whether there is a different medicine you could use. Try extra spices or herbs on your foods to add flavor.
As you get older, you might not be able to eat all the foods you used to eat. For example, some people become lactose intolerant. They have symptoms like stomach pain, gas, or diarrhea after eating or drinking something with milk in it, like ice cream. Most can eat small amounts of such food or can try yogurt, buttermilk, or hard cheese. Lactose-free foods are available now also. Your doctor can test to see if you are lactose intolerant.
Is it harder to chew? Maybe your dentures need to fit better, or your gums are sore. If so, a dentist can help you. Until then, you might want to eat softer foods that are easier to chew.
Do I Need to Drink Water?
With age, you may lose some of your sense of thirst. Drink plenty of liquids like water, juice, milk, and soup. Don't wait until you feel thirsty. Try to drink several large glasses of water each day. Your urine should be pale yellow. If it is a bright or dark yellow, you need to drink more liquids.
Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have trouble controlling your urine. Don't stop drinking liquids. There are better ways to help bladder control problems.
What about Fibre?
Fibre is found in foods from plants—fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Eating more fibre might prevent stomach or intestine problems, like constipation. It might also help lower cholesterol, as well as blood sugar.
It is better to get fibre from food than dietary supplements. Start adding more fibre slowly. That will help avoid unwanted gas. Here are some tips for adding fibre:
- Eat cooked dry beans, peas, and lentils often.
- Leave skins on your fruit and vegetables if possible.
- Choose whole fruit over fruit juice.
- Eat whole-grain breads and cereals.
- Drink plenty of liquids to help fibre move through your intestines.
Should I Cut Back on Salt?
The usual way people get sodium is by eating salt. The body needs sodium, but too much can make blood pressure go up in some people. Most fresh food contains some sodium. Salt is added to many canned and prepared foods.
People tend to eat more salt than they need. If you are over age 50, about 2/3 of a teaspoon of table salt–1500 milligrams (mg) of sodium–is all you need each day. That includes all the sodium in your food and drink, not just the salt you add when cooking or eating. If your doctor tells you to use less salt, ask about a salt substitute. Some contain sodium. Also, don't add salt during cooking or at the table, and avoid salty snacks and processed foods. Look for the word sodium, not salt, on the Nutrition Facts panel. Choose foods labeled “low-sodium.” Often, the amount of sodium in the same kind of food can vary greatly between brands.
Here's a tip: Spices, herbs, and lemon juice can add flavor to your food, so you won't miss the salt.
What about Fat?
Fat in your diet comes from two places–the fat already found in food and the fat added when you cook. Fat gives you energy and helps your body use certain vitamins, but it is high in calories. To lower the fat in your diet:
Choose cuts of meat, fish, or poultry (with the skin removed) with less fat. Trim off any extra fat before cooking. Use low-fat dairy products and salad dressings. Use non-stick pots and pans, and cook without added fat. Choose an unsaturated or monosaturated vegetable oil (check the label) or a nonfat cooking spray. Instead of frying, broil, roast, bake, stir-fry, steam, microwave, or boil foods.
Keeping Food Safe
Older people must take extra care to keep their food safe to eat. As you get older, you are less able to fight off infections, and some foods could make you very sick. Be sure to fully cook eggs, pork, fish, shellfish, poultry, and hot dogs. Talk to your doctor or Nastaran about foods to avoid. These might include raw sprouts, some deli meats, and foods that are not pasteurized (heated to destroy disease-causing organisms), like some milk products and juices in the refrigerated section of the grocery.
Before cooking, handle raw food with care. Keep it apart from foods that are already cooked or won't be cooked, like salad, fruit, or bread. Be careful with tools–your knife, plate, or cutting board, for example. Don't cut raw meat with the same knife you will use to make a salad. Rinse raw fruits and vegetables before eating. Use hot soapy water to wash your hands, tools, and work surfaces as you cook.
As you get older, you can't depend on sniffing or tasting food to tell if it has gone bad. Try putting dates on foods in your refrigerator. Check the “use by” date on foods. If in doubt, toss it out.
Here's a tip: Make sure food gets into the refrigerator no more than 2 hours after it is cooked—whether you made it yourself or brought it home from a restaurant.
Can I Afford to Eat Right?
If your budget is limited, it might take some thought and planning to be able to pay for the foods you should eat. Here are some suggestions. First, buy only the foods you need. A shopping list will help with that. Before shopping, plan your meals, and check your supply of staples like flour and cereal. Make sure you have some canned or frozen foods in case you do not feel like cooking or cannot go out. Powdered, canned, or ultra-pasteurized milk in a shelf carton can be stored easily.
Think about how much of a food you will use. A large size may be cheaper per unit, but it is only a bargain if you use all of it. Try to share large packages of food with a friend. Frozen vegetables in bags save money because you can use small amounts and keep the rest frozen. If a package of meat or fresh produce is too large, ask a store employee to repackage it in a smaller size.
Here are other ways to keep your food costs down:
- Plain (generic) labels or store brands often cost less than name brands.
- Plan your meals around food that is on sale.
- Prepare more of the foods you enjoy, and quickly refrigerate the leftovers to eat in a day or two.
- Divide leftovers into small servings, label and date, and freeze to use within a few months.
Eating alone can be difficult for people of any age. It may not seem worth the effort to cook just for you. But there are ways to put the fun back into eating. Start with keeping your cupboards well stocked with nutritious foods that you enjoy. Studies show that when you eat with others, you tend to have an improved nutrient intake. So, sit down with some friends, family members or neighbours and enjoy their company while you dine. Treat yourself well; you deserve it!
Make it a pleasure
- Create a pleasant place to eat. Set a table with flowers, place mat and napkin, even candles. Listen to music.
- Sometimes moving to a different location or doing something else while eating is helpful. Take your meal out on the porch, sit near a window, go to the park for a picnic, watch TV or read a book.
- Enjoy a dinner out in a restaurant occasionally. Ask for a “doggie bag” to take leftovers home.
- Want a break from cooking? Try a no-cook meal, ready-made meals or other convenience foods.
- Consider taking Meals on Wheels a few times a week or more.
- • Share a potluck dinner with a friend, or form a regular lunch group.
- Start an eating club. The host makes soup and others bring bread, salad or fruit.
- Join a collective kitchen or share cooking with friends. Find a place where a few of you can meet to plan, shop and prepare several meals together. Take those meals home, freeze them and pull them out when you don't feel like shopping or cooking.
- Ask other seniors who are alone for ideas and suggestions, and share yours.
- Exchange recipes.
- Teach your grandchildren how to cook or bake.
- Check your local senior or community centres; many serve weekly meals.
- Beyond the nutritional benefits of eating with others, starting a supper club or joining an eating group can also help you meet new people and forge new friendships.
If you have lost your appetite for more than a day or two, talk with your doctor. Nastaran can provide food and nutrition information you can trust.
©2009 Dietitians of Canada. Reproduced with permission.