Greetings, Wellness Warriors! We are a third of the way into 2021, and March is National Nutrition Month. National Nutrition Month aims to bring awareness to the value of making educated food choices and promoting sound eating and physical activity habits. In 1973, the Academy of Nutrition and Dieticians set aside one week to recognize the importance of health and nutrition. In 1980, it became a month-long observance. It can be easy to let our nutrition slip when we are busy or stressed, but it is vital to us living 30 Summers More!
The Significance for National Nutrition Month for Seniors
This month is the perfect time to consider the impact certain food choices have on our bodies. Eating well promotes longevity and better quality of life, including your physical, mental, emotional wellbeing. Maintaining seniors' dietary needs is critical because as we age, an unbalanced diet can lead to serious health concerns like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer. Furthermore, we typically become less active, and our bodies don't need as many calories. Metabolism slows, and how our bodies process the food and use nutrients change. Seniors need to keep up with the changes and learn as much as possible about their health.
These are some of the most critical nutrients for seniors and some suggestions for incorporating them into a well-rounded diet.
Vitamin B12 – 26% of adults over 60 are deficient in B12. This vitamin is important because it supports several body functions like red blood cell production and slow cognitive decline. B12 deficiency can cause lethargy, weakness, heart palpitations, anemia, and nerve problems. It's typically found in foods like grass-fed meat, salmon, eggs, and dairy.
Potassium — Potassium is crucial for many bodily functions, such as heart, cell, skeletal, and muscular health. For many adults, some medications can interfere with potassium absorption. A poor diet can also contribute to a deficiency. Supplements are helpful but eating potassium-rich foods is the best option. Meat, most dairy products, beans, veggies, and fruits are high in potassium.
Fiber – Fiber's main benefits are digestive regulation and promoting a healthy colon and intestines. Many older adults deal with irregularity, constipation, or gastrointestinal discomfort and medications can worsen these problems and prohibit the body from absorbing fiber as well as it should. Men and women need over 20 grams of fiber daily to keep their digestive system running smoothly. Whole fruits and veggies, grains, and black beans are all excellent sources of fiber.
Calcium – Seniors need about 1200 mg of calcium each day to protect bone health. While the first inclination is to reach for a glass of milk or a piece of cheese, there are other, healthier options to help you meet this value. Kale, almonds, and tofu are high calcium sources and contain less fat than dairy products.
Did you know that the healthiest foods in the grocery store are located around the edges? Think meats, produce, and dairy. Processed and packaged foods are all stored around the interior aisles at grocery stores. If you are going to pick up packaged foods, make sure you're taking the time to read the label to make more health-conscious choices.
How Can You Observe National Nutrition Month?
Maintaining good nutrition is difficult if you lack access to healthy foods. Due to the pandemic, food banks are serving more people than ever – with an average increase of 50% across the country. Simultaneously, many food banks receive fewer donations from the grocery stores and manufacturers that helped them in the past because of increased demand during uncertain times. Foodbank staff and volunteers are on the frontlines every day, putting themselves at risk to help feed America and many children and seniors in this country are relying on food banks more than ever. I want to offer a few ways we can all chip in and do our part.
While many food banks and food pantries still welcome volunteers with extra safety measures, you might prefer to help from the comfort of your home. Becoming a virtual volunteer is a great way to give your time and talent where food banks need it most. All you'll need is an internet connection, a virtual volunteer orientation, and your heart.
Here are some of the virtual volunteer opportunities that may be available with your local food bank or that you can suggest to your food bank's volunteer contact:
Start a virtual food drive or online fundraiser – While this may not be the most traditional volunteer opportunity, food banks need help raising funds to consistently respond to growing needs. Consider starting a virtual food drive for your local food bank.
Utilize Your Platform – Social Media is a great way to help spread the word about food assistance in your area or ways your family and friends can give back to your local food bank. Some foodbanks provide social media volunteers with pre-written messages and graphics each month. Search for your local food bank and find ways to engage with and share their posts for maximum reach.
Ask what they need – Each food bank has a unique need during this crisis. Asking what your food bank needs explicitly will allow you to be more efficient with your generosity because what they need might be different than what you would expect.
Offer your in-demand skills – Food banks and food pantries need volunteers with specific skills to help with projects like data entry, distribution, packing, graphic design, or web design. This is also a great option if you work for a company looking for ways to give back to the local community. Check with your food bank's volunteer contact to see how you can offer your skills.
Nutrition.gov is a great resource that includes tips for making better food choices, healthy eating as we age, interactive tools, recipes, and physical activity tips. Happy National Nutrition Month!
Until next time, Wellness Warriors, Live Well, Live Long!