We all know that a balanced diet is considered important. What really does that mean? What should we be looking to balance? The three macro nutrients often referred to are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Of course, balance can also reference healthy, versus less healthy food options. The 80% healthy and 20% unhealthy rule is often a good one to live by, especially if you’re tempted by sweets or fried foods!
Focusing on protein in the diet of aging seniors, Kerri Sherk, Registered Dietician, has this to say:
A balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein and fats is essential for good health throughout our entire lifetime. Proteins are particularly integral in our diet because our body uses the protein to build and repair tissue, to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. Protein is crucial in the building of muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, hair, nails and blood. Protein also aids in the transport of certain substances in our bloodstream and as well is needed to manufacture antibodies – a key member of our immune system response. Protein often becomes neglected in the senior population for a number of reasons including:
- Protein requires cooking (in most cases) which can become increasingly challenging with age
- Protein becomes more difficult to digest as we age
- Our tastes change and we don’t feel like eating protein foods
- If we are preparing food for only ourselves – protein requires more time, effort and creativity than carbohydrates and fats.
Needless to say, proteins are of particular importance in the aging years and can have significant impact on health. There is a gradual loss of muscle mass as we age which is due to the unavoidable age related process as well as more sedentary lifestyles. Physical activity and an adequate amount of protein impedes this muscle loss. Bone mineral density also decreases with age. Protein is important for optimal absorption of calcium and therefore bone calcification. Studies have shown that adequate protein can reduce bone fractures. Adequate protein intake and regular physical activity enhances bone and muscle mass which assists in prevention of falls, or bouncing back from falls quicker and therefore sustaining a greater degree of independence.
Foods that are considered primarily protein based are meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, certain grains and legumes. Finding a healthy balance between these various forms of protein is also important both in creating a more exciting food repertoire and to vary the micronutrients found in each different form of protein.