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The role of nutrition in healthy aging

September 14, 2023

Eating nutritious foods and getting necessary vitamins and minerals is important at any age, but a balanced diet is especially critical as we get older. Healthy eating is not only important to our physical well-being, it can also affect our mental and emotional health too. This is why I’m passionate about helping more people have access to the nutrition they need to live longer and healthier lives and improve the opportunity to age in place.

The food as medicine concept
While there is no single definition of the food as medicine concept, it is a recognition that diet has the potential to cause disease, as well as the ability to build, maintain and restore health. Have you ever felt mentally and physically sluggish following a meal that’s high in fat, sugar and empty calories? It’s not a good feeling. If someone has unhealthy eating habits for several years, this behavior can increase a person’s risk factors for developing chronic issues.

Pharmaceutical therapies used in combination with a medically tailored diet may be more effective than drugs alone. There are ample studies showing the health benefits of food as medicine and indicating that the emphasis should not be on diet or medicine alone, but rather on diet and medicine as part of a holistic approach to prevention, treatment and management.

Reducing and managing chronic conditions
Chronic disease is prevalent in this country where approximately 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition. To help seniors prevent chronic disease and lower the risk of complications, I believe positive diet changes are a critical step. For example, research shows that people with chronic conditions who receive home-delivered meals experience fewer hospitalizations, and when hospitalized, their length of stay is significantly shorter.

Avoiding malnutrition 
Older adults can face a variety of challenges from having difficulty cooking and eating, taking medications that may affect their appetite and facing difficulties chewing and swallowing. We also see many seniors facing poverty and lacking access to proper nutrition as related to health equity issues. Any of these factors can lead to malnutrition, and a shortage of calories and nutrients can cause weakness, fractures, anemia, fatigue, depression and many other physical and emotional issues.  

To prevent malnutrition, older adults need to include more nutrient-dense foods. Thankfully, there are public and private programs on the national, state and local levels that are working to combat food insecurity and offer nutritious foods to more Americans. 

Using food to help increase longevity
Research shows the younger a person starts eating for a longer life, the greater the increase in their predicted life expectancy. In fact, switching from a Western diet to one with more whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables from age 20 on could increase life expectancy by around 10.7 years for women and 13 years for men. However, older adults can still benefit from adopting better eating habits to help make their life healthier and more enjoyable.

Helping seniors age in place
A growing number of seniors wish to age in place, meaning they would like to live in their own home and community independently and comfortably as they get older. According to a recent survey of adults age 55 and older, 93 percent of respondents said aging in place is an important goal for them. Proper nutrition plays a key role in supporting this goal and helping older adults remain healthy, so they keep up with activities of daily living and remain independent longer.

Mom’s Meals® understands that many older adults may have difficulty getting to the grocery store regularly or preparing well-balanced meals. That’s why for 25 years we have been providing delicious, ready-to-heat-and-eat meals conveniently delivered to any address nationwide. Each budget-friendly option is designed by registered dietitians and optimized to support most common chronic conditions and overall wellness. Some individuals may even qualify for meals at little or no cost to them.

I believe having access to good nutrition should be a right, not a privilege, and we must continue to find ways to help more people get the quality food they need to live a healthy life. I’m also sharing our white papers on food as medicine and state Medicaid innovations to help overcome food insecurity to help get ideas and conversations started.

Reach out to me if you have questions. Let’s have some conversations!