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Eating Well (and Right!) in Your Silver Years
 
contributed by Jaclyn Lim for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Dietetic Department of Singapore General Hospital.

Part 1

Rice and alternatives, Fruits and vegetables

Everybody's got a different plan when it comes to his or her silver years. Some take up a new sport or pursue a second career. Others prefer to kick back and enjoy life.

However you plan to spend your retirement, good nutrition should form an important part of that lifestyle. Especially since the aging process is one of the risk factors for malnutrition - a condition where your body doesn't have enough of the nutrients it needs.

"The risk of malnutrition increases as you age," says Ms Emily Quek, dietitian from the Dietetics Department of Singapore General Hospital. "Factors like dentition, loss of taste, decline in functional ability and illness can affect your food intake."

Quantity vs. quality

But it's not simply a case of eating more of everything. In fact, it is normal to actually be eating less as we grow older.

Ms Quek explains: "Our physical activities lessen as we age. So as you're moving around less, naturally, your energy needs also decrease. As do your food portions."

What's more, we experience sarcopenia - the loss of muscle mass - as we age. As a result, our metabolic rate slows down by about 30 per cent by the age of 80.

So it becomes a question of not simply how much we should be eating in our silver years, but also what.

Rice and alternatives

This food group provides most of the energy for our daily living. It includes rice, noodles, bread, cereal and potatoes.

Healthy eating guidelines recommend about five to seven servings daily, of which half should consist of wholegrain products.

Wholegrains such as brown rice are a rich source of nutrients, like B vitamins, folic acid, iron and copper. They have been associated with lower risks of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. They also maintain good digestive health thanks to their high fibre content.

Yet, the average older Singaporean (50 to 69 years old) is taking less than one serving of wholegrain products a day.

"Most of us eat just the white part of the rice, the endosperm, which mostly contains energy," says Ms Quek. "What we don't realise is that the bran and the germ are the parts that contain most of the nutrients we need."

Some tips to increase wholegrain consumption include:

  • So if you're eating white rice now, try eating brown rice.
  • If you're taking white bread, change to wholemeal bread.
  • Choose oats over rice porridge as a breakfast dish.
  • Go for wholegrain crackers instead of plain crackers with your afternoon tea.
  • And instead of plain vermicelli, switch to brown rice vermicelli.

Wholegrain products are readily available at all major supermarkets. Best of all, prices are comparable to non-wholegrain staples.

Switching to a wholegrain diet doesn't need to be drastic. Ms Quek suggests taking small steps.

"If you’re not used to the taste, you can start by mixing half a bowl of white rice with half a bowl of brown rice. Then gradually increase your portion of brown rice till you become accustomed to it."

Fruits and Vegetables

It is important to eat two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables daily for good health.

Yet, most elderly in Singapore aren't doing so. In fact, 65 per cent of older Singaporeans do not meet this requirement. This is worrying as a lack of fruits and vegetables means a reduced intake of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre.

According to Ms Quek, meeting the two-fruit daily requirement is really not that difficult. "Take an apple or pear in the day, and a wedge of pineapple, watermelon or papaya after dinner," she says. "Done."

For greens, she suggests to cook two vegetable dishes to complement one meat or fish dish for lunch or dinner.

Though key aspects of your nutritional needs, Rice and alternatives as well as Fruits and vegetables form just two categories of a well-balanced diet. Get the full picture by reading part 2 of "Eating Well (and Right!) in Your Silver Years"

This article is reproduced with the permission from HealthXchange.com.sg, Singapore's trusted health and lifestyle portal.

For more information on seniors' health, please visit HealthXchange (http://www.healthxchange.com.sg) for more information.

Part 2

Meat and alternatives, Calcium, Salt and Fluid

However you plan to spend your retirement, good nutrition should form an important part of that lifestyle. Especially since the aging process is one of the risk factors for malnutrition - a condition where your body doesn't have enough of the nutrients it needs.

Beyond "Rice and alternatives" and "Fruits and vegetables", topics covered in this article's Part 1, here's what you need to know to have the full picture regarding your nutritional needs as a senior.

Meat and Alternatives

Surveys have shown that 60 per cent of older Singaporeans are not meeting the dietary guidelines for this category.

Rich in protein, meat and alternatives are essential for the building and repairing of body tissues. A lack of protein will result in the slower repair of worn-out tissue and delayed healing of wounds, making them more vulnerable to infection.

Meat and alternatives are also a good source of B vitamins, zinc, selenium, phosphorus and iron.

Most of us can simply go for lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs to meet the required protein intake. Meanwhile, vegetarians can go for tofu, beans and legumes. These are extremely good sources of protein, very low in fat and loaded with fibre.

Calcium

The most abundant mineral in our body, calcium gives our bones the structural strength they need to support our body. A lack of calcium will result in an increased risk of osteoporosis - a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and weak.

Unfortunately, 80 per cent of Singaporeans aged 60 - 69 years are found to have insufficient calcium intake.

Ms Quek points to dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese as a major source of calcium. Foods like tau kwah (a type of white beancurd), almonds and sardines also provide good levels of calcium.

There is also a small amount of calcium in some dried fruits and leafy vegetables.

Salt (Sodium)

The average Singaporean consumes about 9g of salt a day, which is more than the recommended daily intake of 5g (one teaspoon).

Yet, controlling our sodium intake can help to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, and stomach and nasopharyngeal cancers.

So how can we eat less sodium? Ms Quek suggests a few easy steps:

When eating out:

  • Taste your food first, before adding extra salt or soy sauce
  • Ask for less salt or sauce to be added to your fish
  • Avoid drinking up soups and sauces

When cooking at home:

  • Limit your use of salt, soy sauce, stock cubes, MSG and seasonings
  • Flavour your food with natural herbs and spices like garlic, onion, ginger or cinnamon
  • Avoid using salty preserved foods like salted egg, salted vegetables, luncheon meat, ham and ikan bilis (dried anchovies)

Fluid

Dehydration occurs when a person loses more water than he or she takes in. And contrary to popular belief, it can happen even when we're indoors - where many elderly spend their time.

We need fluid to regulate our body temperature, maintain blood pressure and eliminate waste products from our body. Generally, we need to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day (1.5-2 litres). And that includes anything from water, tea, and coffee, to fruit juice, soup and milk.

For those with fluid restrictions due to medical conditions, Ms Quek advises to consult your dietitian or doctor as to how much you can drink.

This article is reproduced with the permission from HealthXchange.com.sg, Singapore's trusted health and lifestyle portal.

For more information on seniors' health, please visit HealthXchange (http://www.healthxchange.com.sg) for more information.

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