Eating Habits Should Change as We Age

Develop products for more, smaller meals and add longevity-promoting ingredients.

By Rory Gillespie, Contributing Editor

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Grandchildren are a darn fine invention. They make us see the future as a bright beacon of hope. They also are vivid and concrete displays that the years have gained on us. We want to be able to trot along the scooter as that darling dervish heads towards the corner where he knows he has to stop. We want be able to wrestle with the rug rats or simply climb into bed and read them a story.

Eating a balanced and healthy diet are extremely important as Americans age and reach for even simple goals — such as trotting, wrestling and even climbing into bed with those grandchildren.

Dr. John Whyte, M.D., the chief medical expert and vice president of health and medical education at Discovery Channel, shares a goal for all people, but especially for those for whom the years are creeping up.

"It's not just what you exclude, it's what you include," Whyte says about moving onto a path of healthier eating. "We need to include more fish, fruits, nuts, whole grains and low fat dairy."

Having a better life through a better diet doesn't take miracles, he says. "When people ask about eating healthier, I tell them about this amazing food. It's called a blueberry. It has vitamin C, antioxidants and natural sugar. We need to eat more blueberries and less candy bars." Whyte also suggests more vitamin D and B12.

Whyte, author of the recent "AARP New American Diet: Lose Weight, Live Longer," also suggests it might be a good idea to change our ideas on food ingestion. He says people should add a couple of "meals" a day.

"Eat less, but more often, as in three meals and two healthy snacks a day. It's almost like grazing." He adds that our meal planning should be adjusted to our actual lifestyle. A non-active person should aim for 1,600 calories a day, a person with average activity 1,800 calories a day and a very active person can burn 2,000-2,200 calories a day.

Many people skimp on breakfast, when this is the time of day when we should be taking in food since we are going to be most active and physical. Sitting down for dinner, often the biggest meal of the day, is when people are gearing down and becoming less active. "We are many times getting our largest amount of calories at night. We need to begin our day with a much healthier breakfast," he says.

A healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack, such as a handful of almonds, will cure hunger pangs and provide the desired nutrition, he adds.

A Growing Demographic

The next few decades will see great changes in the American population. One in five resident of the U.S. will be age 65 or older in 2030. By that time, all of the baby boomers will have moved into senior citizenry (65 or older). The baby boom generation, people born before 1965, is the single largest consumer group in America. In 2010 the U.S. population 65 and older was estimated at 40,229,000, but it's projected to reach 88,547,000 in 2050.

As the population ages, the significance of consumers over the age of 50 will grow in importance. Already in the U.S., the Baby Boom generation accounts for the largest share of sales of any generation across most product categories.

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AC Nielsen's report, "The Global Impact on an Aging World," is based on findings from an online survey conducted in more than 50 countries. It brings much to light about retirement and other sentiments around aging. The one thing marketers must accept for certain about baby boomers is that they will redefine what it means to be old, just as they redefined what it meant to be young and middle-aged. And they will not allow themselves to be ignored.

Three of the most important health and well-being areas of interest for this group are battles to retain mental sharpness, not be slowed down by arthritis and to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check. Increasing the quality of life and living longer are very important.

It is suggested in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that aging folks should have six to seven ounces of grains each day in a 2,000 calorie diet. Half of these should be whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice and pasta.

It is also important to understand what you are eating, such as the fats you are consuming. Most of the fats should be polyunsaturated or monunsaturated, coming from fish, nuts and vegetable oils.

"In general," said Susan Nitzke, professor emeritus in nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin, "fats that are liquid at room temperature are better for you. Oils from fish, nuts and seeds are healthy for you."

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados, salmon, walnuts and flaxseed. The fats from these sources can protect you body against heart disease and help control LDL or bad cholesterol and raise your HDL or good cholesterol levels.

Read The Label

"I don't understand people who say, ‘I don't have time to read product labels,'" Nitzke said. "I am an avid label reader. You have to take the extra few minutes. If you don't look at labels you are missing important health and nutrition facts."

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