Wheat Foods: the Golden Grain for Your Golden Years

September 11, 2014

Image: Wheat Foods: The Golden Grain for Your Golden Years.
The Wheat Foods Council has developed a new tool kit for seniors, which was distributed to registered dieticians at supermarkets across the country. 

Our goal as we age is to be as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. And we know that in order to achieve that, good nutrition is as important at this stage of life as it ever is.

According to the National Institute of Aging, adults over the age of 50 need fewer calories than younger adults.

"That's because your metabolism (how your body gets energy from food) slows with age. Your body uses less energy, and that means it needs less food to make the energy it needs."

A woman over 50 needs about 1600-2000 calories per day, based on activity level. A man over 50 needs about 2000-2800 calories per day, based on activity level.

Image: MyPlate.
And of course it’s also important to focus on which foods make up those calories. Are you familiar with MyPlate? MyPlate was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health & Human Services based on recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Alliance Committee, composed of scientific experts who reviewed and analyzed the most current information on diet and health in order to create the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (part of which is the MyPlate icon).

According to the MyPlate guidelines, older adults need 6-7 ounces of grains each day (one ounce is about one slice of bread). For added fiber and additional vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, make half of your grains whole, and remember that enriched flour, pasta and cereal also contain important nutrients.

In addition, these three nutrients are particularly important to seniors:

  • Water – As we age, we are prone to dehydration because our bodies lose some of the ability to regulate fluid levels and our sense of thirst may not be as sharp. Post a note in your kitchen reminding yourself to sip water every hour and with meals to avoid urinary tract infections, constipation and even confusion.
  • Vitamin B12 – After 50, your stomach produces less gastric acid making it difficult to absorb vitamin B12—needed to help keep blood and nerves vital. Get the recommended daily intake (2.4 mcg) of B12 from fortified foods like breakfast cereals or a vitamin supplement.
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is essential to absorbing calcium and maintaining muscle mass. We get most of our daily intake through sun exposure and certain foods (fatty fish, egg yolk and fortified milk and breakfast cereals). With age, our skin is less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D, so consult your doctor about supplementing your diet with fortified foods or a multivitamin, especially if you’re obese or have limited sun exposure. 

How do wheat foods in our diets help us stay healthy?

Consuming whole grains as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing blood cholesterol levels. It also has a positive effect on reducing risk of diabetes and obesity. 

Most whole grains are a good source of fiber, which may reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods like whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Eating whole grains may help with weight management.

The Food and Drug Administration has set a daily value for dietary fiber at 25g based on a 2,000-calorie diet. To help you calculate how much fiber you’re getting, locate the fiber content on the food label under the heading "Total Carbohydrate." 

Image: Wheat Foods.
Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium). The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin play a key role in metabolism – they help the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system. Virtually all refined grains in the US are enriched with these B vitamins, iron and folic acid.  

Folic acid, another B vitamin, helps the body form red blood cells.  

Finally, whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles. Selenium protects cells from oxidation and is also important for a healthy immune system.

Research shows that antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals like those found in plant foods, including whole grains, detoxify the free radicals that reduce oxidation in the brain.

This is important in improving cognitive functioning, particularly in those over 55 years old.

And Don't Forget Exercise

Strength training, in particular, can reduce symptoms of diseases and conditions like:

  • Arthritis 
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Back and Joint Pain
  • Depression