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Healthy choices today for tomorrow

March is National Nutrition Month. Tufts Medical Center is reminding you that good nutrition is vital for good health. And making good choices about what you eat now doesn’t just impact you today, it will affect the rest of your life. 

”Studies show that eating a healthy diet can help you live longer and lower your risk for serious health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity,” said Tufts MC Primary Care Physician Fadi H. Ramadan, MD, BSc. He added, “We also know that healthy eating can help people manage their chronic diseases and prevent further complications.”

Dr. Ramadan, who specializes in geriatric medicine, pointed out that genetics and family history are factors in living a long and healthy life but lifestyle—including nutrition—absolutely plays a significant role. 

Teach children early

A bowl of vegan friendly food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 1 in 10 children and adults eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables, and only 4 in 10 children and fewer than 1 in 7 adults eat enough fruit.  

“By teaching children the importance of making healthy food and lifestyle choices early on, we hope they will continue to make these good choices as they grow into adults—it’s as important now as it’s ever been,” said Tufts MC Chief of Clinical Nutrition, Edward Saltzman, MD. “Although obesity rates have leveled after years of rising, obesity remains a real public health problem in the U.S.”

According to the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), an on-going telephone interview survey conducted by CDC and state health departments, adult obesity rates now exceed 35% in nine states, 30% in 31 states and 25% in 48 states. All states and territories had more than 20% of adults with obesity. Some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death from obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.  

Dietary needs change 

“As we age, our dietary needs change and this can be challenging for many reasons,” noted Dr. Ramadan. “It’s important to make good nutritional choices with the foods we eat at all stages of life, but especially as we get older when our metabolism slows down and we might become less active than we used to be.

Specifically, Dr. Ramadan said that eating foods high in nutrients is good for people of all ages but should be a priority for seniors.  

“Nutrient-rich foods are high in vitamins and minerals, fiber, lean protein and unsaturated fats but low in calories, sugar, sodium, starches and bad fats,” agreed Dr. Saltzman. “They have well-documented positive effects on many aspects of our health—including the immune system, vascular function, bone and eye health—and are an excellent food choice for seniors.”

A plate of salmon and saladExamples of nutrient-rich foods include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • fish
  • lean meat
  • skinless poultry
  • peas and beans
  • nuts and seeds

“Make an effort to eat a variety of these nutrient-rich foods so that you’ll get the benefit of different vitamins and minerals that nourish your body,” suggested Dr. Saltzman. 

He cautioned, “Chronic conditions and certain medications can affect the amount of nutrients we need, so speak with your doctor about what’s right for you.”

Additional nutritional challenges for seniors

Seniors may face other challenges when it comes to making good nutritional choices. 
“Some older adults may have limited mobility that makes it hard to shop for food, lift heavy jars or open containers,” Dr. Ramadan explained. “Along with aging, seniors may also experience a loss of appetite and a decline in their oral health which can affect appetite.”

Speak with your medical provider

Both doctors recommend speaking with your own medical provider about the best way for you to get the right amount of nutrition for someone your age. You may want to consider working with a physician trained in nutrition or a registered dietitian to learn how to add nutrient-rich foods to your own everyday menu. 

To make an appointment with Dr. Ramadan or another Tufts MC primary care doctor, please call 617-636-5400 or visit us here; to make an appointment with a physician trained in nutrition or a registered dietitian at Tufts MC Division of Clinical Nutrition call 617-636-5273 or visit us here.