You hold the key to healthy ageing
Ageing is part and parcel of our lives. We can’t avoid growing older but we have a choice of being healthy as we age.
What do we need to do to ensure we lead a healthy life? Firstly, balanced and correct nutrition is important to help us enjoy life to the fullest while being active and doing things we love like hiking, cycling, gardening and, not to forget, playing with our grandchildren.
We tend to lose muscle slowly with age and with that, our strength as well. This is quite a setback in our daily life, as without strength we can’t do what we love most.
You are what you eat
We need to look closely at the foods we are eating everyday. Are we getting enough calories and nutrients?
If we are 60 years old and above, we need to eat at least 1,780 calories per day (for women) or 2,010 calories per day (for men).1 It is important to eat just enough to meet our daily calorie needs. If we eat more, we tend to gain weight and end up with health problems. On the other hand, eating less will cause us to lose muscle mass, cause our immune system to become weaker and our wounds will take a longer time to heal.
All nutrients are important but some even more so during our golden years.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that we need to form red blood cells and DNA in addition to maintaining healthy nerve function so we can think clearly. Since we may not absorb vitamin B12 so well from our food as we grow older, it is important to take supplements. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include fish, poultry, meat, eggs, milk and dairy products like cheese and yoghurt.2
Folic acid or folate is another type of vitamin B, which is also important for us. We must eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fortified breakfast cereals. If we’re not eating enough of fruits and vegetables or cereals, it is advisable to take supplements.2
We need enough amounts of calcium to build and maintain strong bones – 1,000 mg/day for women above 50 and men above 70. We can get calcium by taking 3 servings of low-fat milk and dairy products like yoghurt, custard and cheese. Other sources of calcium are kale and broccoli. Making smoothies with yoghurt, fruits and vegetables is another way we can meet our calcium needs.2
Vitamin D helps our body absorb various nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc from our food. Vitamin D also helps to maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis. New research shows that vitamin D may also prevent cancer, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diseases. We are at risk of falling if we lack vitamin D.2
We are able to produce vitamin D in our skin when we are exposed to direct sunlight – 10-15 minutes a day in the afternoon. Foods such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines and anchovies), liver and eggs, contain vitamin D. We need 10-15µg/day of vitamin D after the age of 50.2
Besides eating yoghurt, which contains live probiotics culture, we also need to eat foods rich in prebiotics that support the growth of the friendly bacteria in our gut. Eating enough prebiotics helps to improve our digestion and strengthen our immune system. Foods such as banana, raw onion and garlic, cabbage, beans, bran, leek, root vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, carrot, beet, yam) and apple, feed the friendly bacteria in our gut.3
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important parts of the basic building blocks of our body – our cells. These essential fatty acids protect us against heart disease and may also prevent diabetes and cancer.4
Our body can make all the fatty acids except linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. In our body, LA becomes arachidonic acid (AA) while ALA becomes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).4
We can get ALA and LA by including plant and seed oils in our diet. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are rich in EPA and DHA. Meat and egg yolk contain AA. To maintain an ideal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, we need to eat fatty fish once or twice a week, and by using sunflower oil most of the time and replacing it with rapeseed oil once in a while.4Sources:
- Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Malaysia. Available at www.moh.gov.my (http://www2.moh.gov.my/images/gallery/rni/insert.pdf)
- WebMD. Available at www.webmd.com (http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/nutrition-world-2/missing-nutrients?page=1)
- One Green Planet. Available at www.onegreenplanet.org (http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/best-prebiotic-foods-for-optimal-digestive-health/)
- European Food Information Council. Available at www.eufic.org (http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/The-importance-of-omega-3-and-omega-6-fatty-acids/)