We've long heard that "you are what you eat." This is an adage that should be heeded at all the different stages of development. Never before has attention been so focused on the concept of dieting for general health, rather than singularly for weight loss.
However, food requirements change as a person ages. While a balanced diet does span the generations, there are certain modifications and preliminary measures a person should take depending upon their age.
Young adults are typically blessed with energy and a fast metabolism, young adults should not go to extremes when eating. In fact, this is a time when careful consideration should be given to cholesterol levels, because many heart problems later in life are linked to poor eating habits during youth.
Additionally, calcium is needed to build strong bones and keep them healthy. Bone growth typically ceases after age 30, so the younger years are the time to fuel bone health.
Young women should supplement their diets with iron and folic acid during childbearing years.
Middle age is a time when eating and health habits should be carefully considered. Risk factors for certain diseases and ailments should be evaluated and strategies developed for helping the body naturally. Many times this includes diet modifications to support general health and reduce the need for prescription drugs.
Dietary changes can also impact your weight, keeping pounds off as the metabolism changes. At this time in your life, declining muscle mass leads to a reduced rate of calorie burning. Therefore, portion control may be necessary, even if you're an active adult.
Tufts University researchers developed a separate food pyramid for older adults, after the discovery that they need a different level of nutrition. Caloric requirements are less than at other ages and you may not have an appetite for eating much at mealtime. This means you must ensure the foods you eat are packed with nutrition, including dark-colored vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy, and fortified whole grains.
Staying hydrated and eating plenty of fiber go a long way to alleviating constipation and diverticulitis, problems of the large intestines. Also, supplements may help seniors get all of the vitamins and minerals needed when dietary requirements cannot be met through food and beverage intake.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that daily caloric intake should decrease proportionally as you age.
Age 25: 2,200 women; 2,800 men
Age 50: 2,000 women; 2,400 men
Age 75: 1,800 women; 2,200 men