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A guide to good nutrition
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Home >> A guide to good nutrition  

 A Guide To Good Nutrition

Good food and good health always go hand in hand, but the nature of this friendly relationship becomes more complex as we get older. When you are young, you may be able to bolt your food, skip meals with abandon or eat anything that is put before you, with few or no after-effects. Eating is something most of us do at least thrice a day. If we are in control of this ongoing activity, we can do more to look younger and live longer than any other single activity in our lives. Almost on a daily basis, we read more and more about research findings that inform us about the importance of choosing the right foods.


Studies indicate that an old person who is in good health has nutritional needs similar to younger adults. His alcohol intake is limited; he has a well-balanced diet and remains physically active. However, some seniors may need some nutrient supplement from vitamins because they are not very active, weigh less than they used to, and so they eat less. Also, the aging process is frequently accompanied by the development of nutrition-related degenerative diseases, excessive use of alcohol, nutritional deficiencies, and a decrease in physical activity. These factors can affect nutritional needs. Many older people, particularly if they live alone, lack the motivation or the inclination to prepare good nutritional meals. It is easier to rely on commercially processed fast foods that have little nutritional value and are high in fats, cholesterol, salt and sugar. Other factors negatively affecting the diet of aged people are the loss of sense of taste and poor condition of gums and teeth.

Good nutrition is an excellent line of defense against the degenerative changes that occur in your body as you grow older. Eating nutritious, well balanced meals can lower your risks for cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and hypertension. It can help you reach and maintain your proper weight while helping you to look and feel better. Determining what is good nutrition however, can be very confusing. You may hear different stories from different sources about what is or is not good for you. Also, foods that may be encouraged in one person's diet may be excluded entirely from another. In this chapter, we deal with health nutrition in general. If your doctor or dietitian has given you specific diet instructions, these guidelines should not replace that advice.


There is more than one way to eat correctly. Diets that instruct you that you must eat a particular food at a particular meal should be avoided. The secret is choosing a variety of healthy foods. You should attempt to eat foods from each of the four basic food groups: fruits and vegetables; breads and cereals; milk and milk products; meat and meat alternatives. This is a very old information which you were probably taught in school and it is still very important today. The difference is that there may be variations in the amount allowed from each group, and the particular foods that are considered best within these groups may have changed. For instance, whole milk, excessive numbers of eggs, and large amounts of fatty red meats are now considered less desirable, but the need for food from these categories is still essential. Listed below are food groups with recommended servings and suggested selections.

  1. Fruits and vegetables: You need at least four servings of fruits and vegetables per day including juices. Try to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, since processing diminishes the nutritional value of food as well as adding some harmful additives.
  2. Breads and cereals: You also need at least four servings per day in this group which includes cereals, pasta and bread products such as muffins, rolls and crackers. One slice of bread equals one serving.
  3. Milk and milk products: Two servings of milk and milk products is adequate in a daily diet. This category includes cheese, cottage cheese and yoghurt. Also you should try to use low-fat dairy products whenever you can.
  4. Meat and meat alternatives: You need at least two servings of protein per day. Proteins, which are used for cell structure and growth are found mainly in meat, fish, peanuts and beans. Substitute fish and lean poultry as much as possible for red meat. Dried beans, dried peas and other legumes are excellent low-fat, inexpensive meat alternatives.

No one food supplies all the essential nutrients your body needs to build and repair cells and to supply needed energy. But eating a combination of foods each day will provide you with the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats which your body needs. Your body needs these things to work properly. For example, too little protein may make your body susceptible and unable to cope with physically and emotionally stressful situations. Carbohydrates are the best source of energy and are found in breads, cereals, vegetables, fruits and milk. If you do not get enough carbohydrates in your diet, you may feel sluggish and weak. Fat is also important to your diet, but in limited amounts. The best sources of fats are vegetable oils and margarine.

Vitamins and minerals can often be found in foods where they are least expected. For example, you may want to increase your intake of dark green, leafy vegetables to improve your supply of iron if you are decreasing your consumption of lean meats. But do not forget water. Drinking six to eight glasses of fluid a day is important to maintain proper bowel movements.


Besides eating a variety of foods each day, there are some other recommendations for better nutrition that relate to a variety of common health problems today:

(a)  Eat meats low in saturated fats and cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body produces and that you consume in foods such as eggs, butter etc. It is essential in the formation of cell membranes. In order that the body produces cholesterol, it must have a supply of saturated fats, which are found in dairy products and red meats.
Problems arise when your body has an over-abundance of saturated fats and cholesterol. High levels of blood cholesterol have been linked to coronary artery disease, hypertension, stroke and cancer of the colon, breast, prostate and endometrium. Therefore, it is recommended that you attempt to decrease your consumption of foods containing saturated fats and cholesterol, which includes fatty red meats, coconut and coconut oils shellfish, junk foods such as cookies and potato chips, and foods with the word 'hydrogenated' in the list of ingredients. Hydrogenation is the process of turning liquid into a solid at room temperature. Liquid vegetable oil is better than solid vegetable margarine.

(b)  Consume less sugar, especially if you are overweight

Another way to avoid saturated fats is by using plant sources rather than meat sources for the greater part of your protein intake. Plants that have protein include grains and vegetables such as beans and potatoes. Today, one-half of the average protein intake of North Americans comes from animal products, unlike our ancestors who derived half of the protein from grains and vegetables. The average North American eats two times as much protein as is necessary for the growth and repair of body cells. The excess is burned for energy instead of the more efficient carbohydrate source, or is stored as fat.

Sweets and high calorie foods are another area for restraint. Remember, as you grow older, you lose some of your sweet taste buds so you may find yourself trying to compensate for that by eating more sweets. You do not have to cut down on sweets and sugar completely; however, you should try to decrease your intake. High calorie foods such as candy bars and cookies are empty calories. They deplete your store of nutrients in order to burn up the calories without replacing any of these nutrients. They dull the appetite for healthy foods and unbalance your diet.

In addition, sugar and high calorie foods are absorbed into the blood stream quickly, unlike the slow absorption of starches. They temporarily flood the system with more fuel than is needed for efficient operation. As a result, the blood sugar increases more rapidly and the pancreas needs to produce more insulin. Insulin controls blood sugar. What may result is an overworked pancreas and liver, and a roller coaster effect of high and low blood sugar levels. This can lead to poor resistance, stress, obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

(c)Decrease your salt and sodium intake

High sodium intake is linked with hypertension. You can reduce your need for diuretics simply by reducing salt consumption. Foods high in sodium include luncheon meats, hot dogs, pickles, olives, canned soup, sardines, anchovies, fast foods, convenience foods, bacon, barbecued and smoked meats.

(d)Increase your fibre and fluid intake

Unrefined carbohydrates that help your system with digestion, elimination, fat absorption, and decreasing blood cholesterol levels contain fibre. As a result, they play an important part in the prevention of colon cancer, and the proper functioning of your digestive system. Foods high in fibre are whole grain cereals and bread, raw or steamed vegetables, fruit and vege-tables such as beans, peas, and potatoes.

(e)Eat foods high in calcium and vitamin D

A diet including green leafy vegetables, low-fat milk products, low-fat cheese and beans may help deter the degenerative process of osteoporosis. For healthy bones and flexibility, most men need about 25% more calcium than they usually get. Older men are subject to the same problems of osteoporosis from which women are more commonly known to suffer. Men lose about one-fifth of their bone mass over the course of a lifetime. Men who get more calcium in their diet suffer from fewer hip fractures. People who do not drink milk due to lactose intolerance, should get this vital mineral through supplementation. Calcium strengthens bones more efficiently when accompanied by adequate amount of vitamin D. Apart from exposure to sunlight, vitamin D can be obtained from fish and fortified milk. If you choose to take calcium supplements for whatever reason, they are available both in chewable and non-chewable tablet form. It is best to take with meals or at bedtime for better absorption. One thing to watch out for is taking calcium supplements with iron pills or multivitamins containing iron, since calcium interferes with iron absorption.

(f) Limit stimulants such as caffeine

You should decrease your intake of stimulants such as tea, coffee, cola and cocoa. Caffeine acts on the heart and respiratory system and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. It also acts as a stimulant by causing the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline. This, in turn, causes the liver to put more sugar in the blood, making the pancreas work harder, just as it happens when you eat high-calorie foods.


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