Mature Living Special Section: Small changes in diet have big impacts

Published on Wed, Feb 23, 2011
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Are you one of the millions of middle-aged Americans who resolved to improve your health this year, through diet, exercise or other lifestyle changes? If so, you know that it's not easy to change old habits – especially the salty, sugary and fatty ones that taste so good.

Unfortunately, poor diet is a vital problem for a growing majority of the nation's population, particularly the baby boomer generation. Obesity is the nation's top health concern and poor diet is a major contributing factor, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as reported in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The report cites data indicating 72 percent of men and 64 percent of women are overweight or obese, with about one-third of adults being obese.

Not only does a diet high in calories and low in nutrient density lead to weight gain, but neglecting the vital nutrients found in whole grains, milk, fruits and vegetables may increase your risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic health problems. But even if you never grew out of your childhood dislike of spinach, you can make healthier choices in the kitchen without sacrificing taste.

The latest dietary guidelines highlight several tactics to improve adult health and lengthen life expectancy. Recommendations for slight but effective diet adjustments include:

More vegetables and fruit

You know fruits and veggies are good for you, but not everyone enjoys the crunch of a celery or carrot stick. The nutrients found in fruits and vegetables are extremely important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The antioxidants in these nutrient-rich whole foods have been shown to decrease risk of chronic health problems, including a number of cancers. The USDA suggests adults should consume five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but many people don't reach this goal.

Whole grains

Nutrition experts agree Americans consume too many refined grains, and the new dietary guidelines suggest one half of all grains consumed in a day should be whole grains. Choosing whole wheat bread and pasta rather than the nutrition-lacking white versions is a small change that can make a big difference. Some high-powered blending machines can even grind whole grains for making your own healthy bread, pancake and other dough-based recipes. Just make sure not to combat your positive move toward whole grains with a negative overload of spreads or sauces full of trans fat.

Individuals 50 and older

The 2010 dietary guidelines recommend those aged 50 years and older consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, or take dietary supplements for healthy aging. This nutrient is key to maintaining normal function of the brain and nervous system and affects energy production.

Many breakfast cereals and other processed foods are fortified with vitamin B12, and you may also find the vitamin in pill form. Vitamin B12 is vital to red blood cell and DNA production, and increasing intake has additional benefits such as higher energy.

Studies show absorption of vitamin B12 decreases while aging, so adding this nutrient to a healthy daily diet is important for those older than­ 50.