Foods can affect how you look and feel

September 25, 2012|Lynn Little

The foods you choose can make a difference in how you look and feel. 

Whole-grain foods provide you with health-promoting vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent heart disease and some cancers. Experts recommend making half your grains whole grains every day.

Researchers recommend making one-half your plate fruits and vegetables. Fruits, such as blueberries, and vegetables, such as broccoli, offer antioxidants and phytochemicals that reduce the oxidative damage associated with aging, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Choosing dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables that have lutein and zeaxanthin can help prevent hearing loss and vision problems, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. 

Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption need not be difficult. Consider replacing one or more daily snacks with naturally sweet fruits or crisp, crunchy vegetables. Drinking small amounts of 100-percent fruit and vegetable juices can add variety and take the edge off your appetite. Eating whole fruits and vegetables provides additional fiber.

Foods with healthful fats, for example, the omega 3's contained in cold-water fish such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseed, can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. 

Nuts and other high-protein, high-fiber foods, offer heart-healthy fats, vitamin E, magnesium and copper. Including nuts in your diet five times a week might reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 53 percent. Substitute one-fourth cup of nuts for other snacks, so as not to add calories. 

Metabolism typically slows with aging and the need for calories declines with each decade; however, the need for health-promoting nutrients may increase. It is important to read food labels carefully and plan meals and snacks to include a variety of foods. 

Look for health-promoting ingredients. Try to avoid processed foods that are high in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, hydrogenated fats and oils, added sweeteners or sodium. 

Eat recommended, rather than oversized, portions with all foods eaten in moderation. 

Choose whole grain breads and cereals. These complex carbohydrates are digested slowly and provide lasting energy, as well as protein (in the endosperm), fiber, essential B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium, phytochemicals and antioxidants. 

Choose low-fat dairy products and calcium-fortified foods to meet the recommended daily allowances for calcium. Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that can compromise an older adult's lifestyle and independence. 

Replace fluids needed for such bodily functions as digestion; cooling (perspiration); and cushioning bones, joints and organs. Drinking eight cups of fluid is recommended; however, some fluids may come from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables that have high water content. 

Along with eating smart, add 30 or more minutes of weight-bearing exercise (such as walking) five or more days a week to improve body functions, lower blood pressure and strengthen bones. Regular moderate exercise also can help with weight management and reduce stress.

For guidance in planning and selecting "eating for health" foods, go to and click on the link for sample menus and recipes.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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