World Health Day 2012: Good health adds life to years

United Nations World Health Organisation logo

United Nations World Health Organisation logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 7 was World Health Day, celebrated this day every year on the anniversary of the 1948 founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). This year’s theme is aging and health. The slogan, “Good health adds life to years,” emphasizes how good health throughout life can help people have full and productive lives and be a resource for their families and communities. In the United States, as well as in other countries, life expectancy has increased and there are more and more older individuals.

One major factor in healthy aging is proper nutrition. It is important to eat right so we can stay active, alert and productive. As we get older our nutrient needs – vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber – stay the same or increase while our calorie requirements go down. Here are a few tips to make sure you are getting the best nutrition to stay in top shape.

Calories: Older adults are generally less active and metabolism slows down. Therefore, it becomes more challenging to get all the nutrients we need without overdoing it on calories. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, older women need 1600 – 2200 and men 2000 – 2800 calories/day depending on whether you are sedentary, moderately or very active.

Protein: Pick lean proteins like skinless chicken breast, fish, lean cuts of beef and pork, dry peas and beans, eggs and soy. Protein is important for keeping our body tissues healthy and our body organs working properly. Eat 5 to 6 ounces of cooked protein foods each day. These foods also provide iron to prevent anemia, which can make you feel tired, weak and more difficult to concentrate.

Calcium and vitamin D: Essential for healthy bones, the milk group is the best source for these nutrients. Aim for three servings of fat-free or low fat milk, yogurt or cheese. Other good sources of calcium are fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish with soft bones. Eggs are one of the best natural sources of vitamin D along with fortified milk, yogurt and juice.

Vitamin B12: As we age, it is more difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B12 so it is even more important that we eat foods rich in B12 to maintain healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia. Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy and fortified cereals are all good sources.

Fiber: Fiber-rich foods pack a wealth of health benefits from preventing constipation, helping keep your weight down and reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes. Grains, beans, fruits and vegetables all provide fiber. Make at least half of your grains whole grains like whole-wheat bread, whole grain cereals and pasta and brown rice.

Potassium: Along with eating less salt, getting more potassium-rich foods can help with high blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables and fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt can boost potassium intake.

Healthy fats: Fat is a concentrated source of calories but some fat is necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, provide insulation and pad our body organs. For the healthiest diet eat more “good” polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats like corn, safflower, sunflower, olive and canola oils, nuts, avocado and olives. These fats help keep blood cholesterol levels down to reduce risk of heart disease.

Sugars: When choosing sweetened foods – from cane sugar, honey or high fructose corn syrup – look for nutrient-rich choices that provide vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber along with sugar. Good examples are fat-free fruit yogurt, low-fat or fat-free chocolate milk, whole-grain cereal, an oatmeal raisin cookie or a zucchini muffin. By opting for low-fat and fat-free choices and keeping portion sizes appropriate, you can enjoy some sweet treats without exceeding your calorie needs.

For more information on healthy eating, check out the USDA’s MyPlate page at www.myplate.gov and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at www.eatright.org. If you need individualized help with your diet you can find a registered dietitian in your area on the Academy’s eatright site.

Neva H. Cochran, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a registered and licensed dietitian, member of the CRA RD Panel, a nutrition consultant, and a writer based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to working with national organizations and corporations as a nutrition and health consultant and spokesperson, Cochran has been a contributing columnist and researcher for Woman’s World magazine for 18 years.

Members of the RD Panel are paid consultants to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), but their statements and opinions are their own. RD Panel members provide general dietary information, but you should consult your own physician or dietitian for advice concerning your particular circumstance.