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Newsletter: Making Every Bite Count

AICR Newsletter #113, Fall 2011

Making Every Bite Count

strawberry on a forkAs we age, fitting maximum nutrition into every bite becomes increasingly important. Research suggests that older adults who eat a healthful diet can reduce their cancer risk and live longer.

It's natural for our bodies to burn calories (in the process called "metabolism") more slowly as we get older. For many people, body fat increases, lean muscle decreases and activity level is less.

A slower metabolism requires fewer calories. That's why it's important to make sure each bite you take has the most vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting compounds with the fewest calories.

Luckily, eating plenty of nutrientfilled foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains can fill you up without a lot of calories. Add low-fat dairy products and lean animal proteins while skipping the caloric high-sugar, high-fat foods that have few nutrients and you'll be on a healthy track.

Here are some nutrients to keep in mind when deciding what to eat.

Calcium and Vitamin D

As we age, we lose bone density, so getting enough calcium and vitamin D (absorbed by the body with the help of sunlight) is very important for both men and women. Get the most bone-boosting calcium per bite by choosing:

  • low- or reduced-fat yogurt, milk (or fortified soy, rice or almond milk) and cheese
  • collard greens
  • canned fish like salmon and sardines (including bones)
  • orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D

Sodium

Medications and simply age can change or dull your tastebuds. To make food tastier, bypass the saltshaker and add flavor with:

  • fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • salt-free seasoning mixes
  • balsamic, cider and other vinegars
  • spices, such as chili powder, curry, turmeric and cumin
  • fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, oregano, etc.)

Fiber

All muscle mass decreases as we age including muscle in the digestive tract. This results in slower digestion. Instead of laxatives, which lack the many nutrients and phytochemicals that foods with fiber supply, go for these cancer-fighting foods:

  • whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat breads and tortillas and whole-grain pasta
  • fresh fruits (berries, peaches, bananas, etc.)
  • beans and peas
  • vegetables (dark leafy greens, squash, corn, green beans, etc.)

Eating fiber-rich foods is a better choice than using fiber supplements, AICR experts advise. Also, remember to drink plenty of water when you increase fiber-rich foods. Sip from a portable water bottle throughout the day; the sense of thirst also declines as we age.

Vitamin B12

fish, tomatoe, and lettuce on a forkLow levels of vitamin B12, common with aging, are associated with nerve and balance problems, anemia and possibly memory loss. This vitamin occurs naturally in animal protein, such as in lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy foods and eggs.

After age 50, some people do not absorb B12 easily. This vitamin is normally broken down from the protein during digestion. So health providers may recommend taking B12 in a supplement or injection or eating B12-fortified foods. Check with your doctor to see if you need a B12 supplement.

Vitamins A and C

Because aging can slow the immune system's response in making antibodies, it is important to take in immunity-building vitamins A and C from fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes when people have difficulty chewing, they choose a soft, low-fiber diet that lacks in foods providing vitamins A and C (plus other essential nutrients, like the mineral potassium). To make sure you're getting enough vitamins, enjoy an array of colorful fruits and vegetables in your meals and snacks:

  • kiwifruit
  • citrus fruit
  • carrots
  • squash
  • spinach and dark leafy greens
  • avocados
  • tomatoes and tomato sauce


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