The old saying, "Treat your body right, and it'll treat you right," refers to more than just getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours a night for most of us), exercising and managing your stress levels.
It also means carefully considering the foods you're eating to fuel your body.
You know that fatigue that knocks you off your feet in the middle of the afternoon? That cracked tooth? Or that moodiness that randomly strikes and results in an ugly spat with your spouse? Could be that your body is out of whack and missing out on important nutrients; all the more reason for you to eat a well-rounded diet.
1. Your Teeth/Bones Need: Calcium
Why You Need It: Ninety-nine percent of the body's calcium supply is stored in the bones and teeth, where it supports their structure and function. But since our bones are continuously remodeling themselves, they need a constant supply of calcium to reabsorb into new bone. The balance between bone reabsorption and deposition changes with age.
Where to Eat It:
- Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt and cheese
- Broccoli, spinach and other green leafy vegetables
- Tofu with added calcium
- Soy-based drinks with added calcium (soy milk)
- Orange juice with added calcium
Who Needs It Most: Postmenopausal women, people with lactose intolerance or an allergy to cow's milk, women with history of prior stress fractures.
2. Your Eyes Need: Lutein and Zeaxanthin, Omega-3s, Vitamins C and E, Zinc, Beta-carotene
Why You Need It: Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall eye health as you age and helps replenish nutrients that decline as a result of the normal aging process.
Where to Eat It: Registered dietitian Kerri Gans says that kale and spinach are both packed with lutein and zeaxanthin. You can also add berries to yogurt in the morning for extra vitamin C. Other sources:
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes and broccoli
- Vitamin E: vegetable oils, wheat germ, nuts and legumes
- Zinc: oysters, beef and other meats, nuts, legumes and dairy from plant sources of zinc
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: kale, spinach, broccoli, peas, corn, colored bell peppers, goji berries and Brussels sprouts
- Omega-3 fatty acids: fish oils from cold water fish like salmon or tuna
- Beta-carotene: carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and spinach
Who Needs It Most: In a review titled "Nutrients for the Aging Eye," Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., a nutrition researcher at Tufts University, and Helen Rasmussen, Ph.D., R.D., an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University, found that Americans over 50 are not getting recommended amounts of important nutrients that support eye health through their daily diet. The eye is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage, and the key nutrients can help diminish the oxidative stress that lead to eye disease as we age.
READ: How to Protect Your Vision Against Macular Degeneration as You Age
3. Your Muscles, Nerves, Blood Sugar Levels, Immune System, Heart and Bones Need: Magnesium
Why You Need It: Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Aside from those mentioned above, it also helps promote normal blood pressure and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
Where to Eat It:
- Spinach and other green vegetables
- Legumes (beans and peas)
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole unrefined grains
Who Needs It Most: Magnesium absorption can be impaired by certain gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease, vomiting or diarrhea.
4. Your Bones and Mood Need: Vitamin D
Why You Need It: Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut; without it, bones can become thin, brittle or misshapen. Paired with calcium, it also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. This vitamin acts on areas of the brain that are linked to depression; research is ongoing and mixed on whether low levels cause depression or low levels develop as a result of depression.
Where to Eat It: Vitamin D is tough to get in food since it's present in very few foods in nature. A few sources include:
- Flesh of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
- Fish liver oils
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
Who Needs It Most: Vitamin D deficiency can occur when exposure to sunlight is limited or absorption from the digestive tract is inadequate. People who have milk allergies, are lactose intolerant or vegans can also suffer low vitamin D levels.
Exposure to sunlight is the most natural way to get vitamin D. But don’t get burned! You need just enough exposure for around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn.
5. Your Immune System, Cells, Senses of Taste and Smell Need: Zinc
Why You Need It: Zinc is involved in many aspects of cellular metabolism and plays a role in immune function, wound healing and cell division. The body has no specialized storage system for zinc; maintaining a steady state requires a daily intake of zinc.
Where to Eat It:
- Whole-grain breads
Who Needs It Most: There is some evidence that suggests older adults might have marginal zinc intakes. The same is true for people in households with inadequate food supplies. Certain conditions like colitis, Crohn's disease, chronic diarrhea and diabetes can also impair zinc absorption.