Aging Well with a Healthy Diet

October 30, 2019

Suzanne Henson, registered dietitian at University Medical Center, said eating, living and aging well are possible with forethought, dedication and a little creativity. Henson who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences, spoke to Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) Mini-Medical School participants on Tuesday, Oct. 1. CCHS operates UMC.Suzanne Henson, RD, MS

Henson described the five key nutrients that must be maintained and monitored in later years. Protein, vitamin B12, calcium, fiber and water are essential for longevity and muscle retention. However, with age some find that eating enough or chewing tough proteins can prove difficult. Henson said she recommends eggs or cottage cheese as a source of soft proteins.

Nutrition plays a key part in avoiding falls, said Henson. A lack in vitamin B12, which is primarily found in animal products, can cause balance issues, while a lack in calcium can make bones brittle and more likely to break if a fall does occur.

Henson recommended that patients aim for a balanced diet, or one that meets their specific needs like that of the MIND-ful diet, which combines a Mediterranean diet with brain-foods. This diet avoids butter, cheese, red/processed meats and fast foods. In its place are green leafy vegetable, lean proteins and whole grains.

At the same time Henson said that striking a balance is key. Avoiding all the foods that taste good will only lead to burnout.

“Food is one of the lasting pleasures of life,” Henson said, explaining that it isn’t the special occasion foods that impact health but rather what is eaten habitually. “Let’s keep it that way. No food is off-limits, just portioned and spaced out.”

To aid participants in making smart choices even when they are tired or busy, Henson said that convenience packaged foods can be combined or divided into new meals. Also, meal-prepping bento -type boxes can control portions as well as reduce fatigue for older patients who struggle to eat a regular meal in one sitting.

Henson ended by reminding patients to speak to their doctors and a registered dietitian about how their medications may change their dietary needs. For example, patients on acid reducers may not absorb Vitamin B12 well. Patients with diabetes should benefit from working with a Diabetes Education Team to manage carbohydrate intake.

The Mini Medical School Program, a partnership of the College and UA’s OLLI Program, features lectures provided by College faculty physicians about current topics, issues and advances in medicine and health. OLLI is a member-led program catering to those aged 50 and older.