By Traci Moyer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — While Americans are living longer and many are making healthier lifestyle changes, proper nutrition has become a growing concern.
We are making the right choices. In 1965, more than 42 percent of the adult population smoked cigarettes and today only 18 percent smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And physical fitness is no longer a fad with more and more people signing up for a gym membership. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association has reported a 10 percent increase in memberships since 2008.
The problem many Americans are overlooking is with their diets, experts say.
Epidemic obesity rates have been reported across the nation, but when it comes to nutrition, Americans are failing.
According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, we eat too much fat, sodium and calories and the number of fast food restaurants has more than doubled since 1970. The food being consumed also often lacks the vitamins and minerals needed to support a healthy lifestyle
To help bring awareness to this problem, March has been designated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as “National Nutrition Month.” This year the theme of the campaign is "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right" as social, emotional and taste factors that may interfere with eating healthy foods.
Deb Keith, clinical dietitian at Community Hospital Anderson, said people who want to be healthy should eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grain. This type of diet, combined with regular exercise, can improve health.
“I know it sounds generic, but there is no magic pill and it works,” she said. “For a lot of people just increasing food and vegetable intakes will help them.”
Keith said one of the best ways to know if the right foods and proportions are being followed is by using ChooseMyPlate.gov. The site is maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture and features the revised food guide pyramid.
Keith said nutrition needs change with age and while most people are aware of the importance of nutrition for children, senior dietary needs can be overlooked.
“They need fewer calories, but they need more of certain nutrients because they are not able to make or absorb them as well,” she said.
Michelle Richart, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, said as the body ages, metabolism slows.
“Also, the digestive system changes with age,” she said. “The body produces less of the fluids that are needed to process foods. These changes can make it harder for the body to absorb Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12.”
She said appetites can also change from medications or upset stomachs, which means people can eat less and that may affect nutrition.
Emotional well-being can also play a role in nutrition.
“Seniors who are depressed or lonely often lose interest in eating,” Richart said. “On the other hand, emotional issues may cause some people to eat more and gain unwanted weight.”
That is why health experts say that both portions and the types of food being consumed are equally important.
Keith said some foods like spinach, sweet potatoes, strawberries and broccoli are packed with vitamins and nutrition, but there are no super foods that can do it all. The key, she said, is in balance.
Richart also stressed the importance of calcium in the diets of aging Americans.
“Use calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat dairy,” she said. “If selecting a calcium supplement, look for one with vitamin D. Calcium needs vitamin D to enter the bones. Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified cereals.”
Keith said meals should never be skipped and eating a healthy breakfast each morning is essential for proper nutrition.
“Water is a big deal, too,” Keith said. “A lot of people are on different medications that increase dehydration.”
Richart said if friends or family believe an older loved one is not getting the proper nutrition they need, they should check in pantries and refrigerators during regular visits.
“Look for the essentials that might be missing and help check expiration dates to remove items that might be spoiled,” she said.
Keith said the most important way for people to improve their nutrition is to always watch what is being consumed.
“They should take a good hard look at all those extra calories like a pop, a piece of candy and be very mindful of all the sweets,” she said. “You might think it doesn’t all add up, but when it comes to your weight it does, and seniors are not as active as younger people so it would be even more important for them.
“Bite, licks and tastes – they all matter.”
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The costs of poor nutrition Obesity-related medical conditions cost the nation about $150 billion each year and account for 16 to 18 percent of total health care costs (1 in every 6 dollars spent). Projections estimate that by 2018, obesity will cost the U.S. 21 percent of our total health care costs -- $344 billion annually. Those who are obese have medical costs that are $1,429 more than those of normal weight on average (roughly 42 percent higher). Obesity is also a growing threat to national security - 27 percent of young Americans are too overweight to serve in the military. Approximately 15,000 potential recruits fail their physicals every year because they are unfit. Source: President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition