12 Ways Dairy Foods Contribute to Successful Aging
The nation’s older population is larger, living longer, and more diverse than ever before. I recently asked some older adults aged 65+ years what “older adult” and “aging” means to them. Many said they are enjoying their senior years, especially activities they previously had little time for, such as traveling, taking a class, learning a new skill, joining an exercise group, or being more involved in their communities. A common comment was the need to achieve and maintain an active, healthy lifestyle. As one woman said, “I’m trying to eat better and be physically active to be strong and healthy so I can keep up with my grandkids!”
May is Older Americans Month. This year’s focus is on recognizing and celebrating what getting older now looks like. Older adults differ widely in how they age, depending on genetics and a variety of lifestyle factors. Today, many older adults are leading active, healthy lifestyles, striving for wellness, and focusing on being independent.
Recipe for successful aging
Consuming an overall healthful diet contributes to successful aging by helping older adults meet nutrient needs and reduce their risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases that disproportionately affect this age group. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages older adults to consume vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein foods; cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars; enjoy food but eat less; be physically active, and consult a registered dietitian nutritionist for special dietary needs or questions.
The United States Department of Agriculture also offers healthy eating and physical activity tips for successful aging.
A focus on dairy
Dairy foods are an important component of a healthy diet for older adults. Unfortunately, older adults in general fail to consume the recommended three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese. To increase their intake of dairy foods, older adults need to become aware of how dairy foods can help deliver health, wellness, and enjoyment during the senior years, and learn how to overcome barriers to dairy intake.
12 Ways Dairy Foods Contribute to Successful Aging
1. Provide essential nutrients. Many older adults need fewer calories, but more of certain nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, protein, and vitamin B12 than during their younger years. Dairy foods are naturally nutrient-rich, providing substantial amounts of nine essential nutrients and relatively few calories. Further, dairy foods are a source of under-consumed nutrients of public health concern, including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
2. Deliver high-quality protein. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are rich in high-quality protein, providing all the essential amino acids the body needs. Some experts recommend that older adults increase their protein intake to help preserve muscle mass, improve strength and function, and support weight management and bone health.
3. Boost bone health. Dairy foods and dairy nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamin D (if fortified), contribute to bone health by helping to slow age-related bone loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
4. Reduce chronic disease risk. Consuming three servings of dairy a day as part of an overall healthful diet may reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and play a role in managing type 2 diabetes, conditions affecting many older adults.
5. May benefit brain health. Dairy foods may have a beneficial role in older adults’ brain health, according to emerging research. A study among older adults found that daily servings of dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese) or milk alone were associated with increased brain levels of glutathione. This naturally occurring antioxidant may help reduce age-related oxidative stress, such as that associated with a number of diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Help meet hydration needs. With aging, some sense of thirst may be lost. Low-fat and fat-free milk, as well as water, and 100% juice, can help older adults stay hydrated.
7. Deliver taste and flavor preferences. Loss of taste and flavor of food may occur in older adults. Today there’s a wide variety of dairy foods with new flavors, such as cheeses with herbs and spices and tangy yogurts to enhance their flavor and appeal.
8. Suit special dietary needs. As people age, some foods may no longer agree with them, or they may need to follow dietary restrictions. For older adults with lactose intolerance, dietary strategies are available to help them comfortably keep dairy in their diet. These include consuming smaller amounts of milk at a time, especially with meals, aged cheeses, yogurt with live, active cultures, and lactose-free milk and other lactose-free dairy products. For older adults who have been prescribed low-salt or low-fat diets, specific dairy foods are available to meet these needs.
Related: 10 Lactose Intolerance Myths Busted
9. Require little or no chewing. For older adults with dental problems, many dairy foods such as milk, yogurts and soft cheeses are nutritious options that either don’t need chewing or are easy to chew.
10. Affordable. For older adults on limited budgets, dairy foods are a relatively economical source of essential nutrients.
11. Fulfill the need for portion control. For the many older adults who live alone and do not want food leftovers, there’s a demand for healthy foods available in individual serving size packages. Dairy foods including milk chugs, yogurt on a stick or in a cup, cottage cheese in a cup, and individually wrapped, single-serve packages of cheese meet this need.
12. Meet the demand for convenience. Dairy foods, whether consumed as part of a healthful meal, alone as a grab-and-go snack, or used as an ingredient in easy-to-prepare recipes, can answer older adults’ need for convenience.
Consuming a healthy dietary pattern including three daily servings of low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese can contribute to older adults’ health and functionality, key components of successful aging.