To keep your body running at its best, it’s important to eat right – which is easier said than done.
During National Nutrition Month in March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages you to follow an eating plan that fits your unique lifestyle and nutritional needs.
Registered dietitian Jacqueline Clemons of the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center of the Washington Hospital says there’s no one-size-fits-all plan to eat that’s right for everyone.
“Something may work for one individual and not for another. It’s based on you needs, your lifestyle and your food accessibility, not just nutrient requirements,” said Clemons. “I’m most concerned with balance.”
Whether you’re a student, athlete, busy parent, retiree, or work 9 to 5, it’s important to “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day,” the slogan of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, you need to adjust your eating habits as you age in order to maintain a healthy weight and meet your nutrient needs.
Clemons offered the following tips to eat right at different stages of life:
Infancy and early childhood – During those first years, a person has the highest requirement for all nutrients per kilogram of body weight than any other developmental age. “That’s when a child is growing at the fastest rate,” said Clemons. They also require increased protein and require essential fatty acids such as DHA, an Omega 3 fatty acid for brain development and mental function. It can be found in salmon and tuna, nuts and seeds. For picky children, a supplement is available.
Adolescence – Clemons said that many children in this age group tend to skip breakfast, an important meal for growing bodies. She suggests preparing healthy grab-and-go foods for breakfast: cheese sticks, yogurt, trail mix, healthy granola bars (they’ve come a long way, Clemons said) and fruit.
She also noted that busy teens eat on the go, but encouraged them to make good choices when they are out.
“Even gas stations carry yogurts, granola, fruits, cheese packages and hummus. You used to go into a gas store and you’d be lucky to get a hot dog,” said Clemons. Adolescents require protein, including lean meat and fish, legumes, low fat dairy, nuts, seeds and soy products.
The teen years are a critical time to consume calcium-rich foods every day.
“Calcium is very important with this age group. Calcium intake should be at its peak to meet their demands.”
Typically, teens get calcium through dairy, but Clemons said those who don’t like milk or yogurt can now eat calcium-fortified foods and leafy greens.
Adults over the age of 25 – At this stage of life, adults should try to maintain a healthy weight. In order to do that, most people have to reduce the calorie levels they enjoyed as adolescents.
Clemons said these tend to be the years where people with busy, on-the-go lives dine out more. That’s fine, as long as they go to a restaurant as an informed consumer, aware of just what they’re eating.
“Most establishments have information available about what food you’re going to eat. Take a little extra time to evaluate it and see if you should be eating it. If a food product is 1,000 calories, you can guess it’s probably not a good chcoie,” said Clemons.
Another tip: Stock the pantry with healthy items.
“If you have healthy options available after work, you will eat that,” Clemons said.
For families, create a meal plan every week, Clemons suggested. Consider including a take-out night or have the kids help prepare dinner one night. On nights where the children have practice or events scheduled, prepare a crock pot dinner so everyone can eat as soon as they get home.
Elderly – During later years, older people’s nutrition needs change as they undergo reduction in lean body mass, metabolic rate and physical activity level.
Therefore, older people don’t need to take in as many caolories.
Clemons said the elderly have to increase their vitamin D level to maintain bone density.
Also, as people get older, they sometimes lose interest in cooking for one or two people and eat out more.
Clemons suggested that older people make quick meals, like rotisserie chicken and steamed vegetables, or baked fish and a quick cooking rice.
Watch out for the sodium content in prepared meals and lunch meat.
Clemons recommends that anyone searching for resources to help them put together a diet suitable for their age should visit www.choosemyplate.gov.lifestyle.