You are what you eat. At least that’s the saying we’ve heard all of our lives. Nutrition behavior begins as a child in what your parents feed you and runs the course through your lifetime. Obviously, not every disease is linked to your eating habits, but many illnesses are a direct link to your nutrition. The following are recommended guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding what to eat and what to avoid at various stages of life.
During the first six months of life, infants should exclusively be fed human milk or iron-fortified infant formula when the mother’s milk is unavailable. Supplemental vitamin D is also recommended soon after birth. Once the infant is about six months old, you can introduce them to foods dense in nutrients, and limited in added sugars and high sodium. You should continue feeding infants human milk (or formula) through at least the first year of life, or longer. Once your child turns two, toddlers consume less human milk, and infant formula is not recommended.
If you have children, you remember the faces they made when introducing new foods to them. The textures and flavors are new and it may take 10 exposures to accept a new type of food. If they don’t like peaches or peas the first time, don’t give up. Offering healthy food options at an early age can set them on a path for making healthy eating choices as they get older. For example, instead of cereals with extra sugar, choose one with lower added sugar such as Cheerio’s. Carrot sticks and celery with peanut butter are healthy options as opposed to chips and other high-sodium snacks, and the same goes for roasted potatoes rather than fries. Also, be aware of the added sugars found in flavored yogurt, soft drinks, and flavored milk, and limit intake as the extra calories quickly add up.
As your child grows you can lead by example in modeling healthy habits. Let them see you drinking water instead of soft drinks, and eating healthy meals. Bring them to the grocery store with you and encourage them to pick out a new healthy food to try together. Allow them to help out in the kitchen with meal prep and making kid-friendly meals. Let them pack their lunch for school and help them make a healthy sandwich on whole-wheat bread and they can pack a fruit or a vegetable to go with it – something they picked out at the grocery store. Provide grab-and-go foods like fruit and unsalted nuts for kids (and yourself) so when they are running out the door to play with friends or head to soccer practice, it makes it easy for them to eat healthier.
A healthy dietary pattern throughout life can promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The older we get the healthier we tend to eat, but most of our eating patterns are far from ideal. The progression of diet-related chronic disease most often occurs in adulthood. So when you are preparing your meals, make your half of plate a mix of fruit and vegetables. Switch to whole-wheat bread and pasta or eliminate these from your diet. Instead of white rice, choose brown rice. Eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D like cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, tuna, sardines, orange juice, or almond milk fortified with vitamin D, and dairy products.
Good nutrition is also what NOT to eat and drink. Choose foods and beverages with little to no added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium. Also limit alcohol to either none or only in moderation as it is high in calories and increases the risk of several health conditions and death. If you have a sweet tooth, reduce your portion sizes of desserts and snacks, or limit them to special occasions. Instead of sugary sweets, opt for fresh fruit. Choose lean meats and poultry over burgers and pizza, and switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Cooking at home is better than eating processed foods since you can control the seasonings and cooking oils. When cooking, use canola, corn or olive oil. Swapping salt for herbs and spices will help reduce sodium.
The older we get, the fewer calories and more nutrients we need. This is due to changes in metabolism, age-related loss of bone and muscle mass, and less physical activity. Older adults are also more often affected by chronic health conditions, taking multiple medications, as well as changes in body composition.
Adults 71 and older often eat too little protein. Adding seafood, dairy, beans, peas and lentils can offset what you are getting through meat, poultry and eggs. These sources also provide nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and fiber. If you aren’t getting enough vitamins through your diet, Village Pharmacy has a selection of dietary supplements to help you with your intake.
Good nutrition across your lifespan helps prevent chronic diseases. But remember, it’s never too late to make changes to improve your health.