How to Pursue Good Nutrition For Ourselves and Our Loved One(s)

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Have you ever struggled with worrying about your elderly loved ones’ healthy (or not so healthy habits)?

I did, too. In particular when it comes to eating healthily during this time. We find ourselves with plenty of time and limited options of killing our time. Eating out of boredom, adding snacks because we work from home and wander by the food pantry every time we are taking a break, missing social gatherings are just a few of the challenges.

Just like you, I truly wanted to do everything right (especially so that my parents and in-laws make it through this pandemic). But, honestly, it was a struggle to find research-based information what we can do to boost our immune function through the way we eat.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to interview Ms. Aria Drexler, MS, RD, CLT of Intuitrition, LLC . Aria is a Registered Dietitian providing nutrition counseling & services to clients in Colorado and California. She specializes in personalized nutrition, autoimmunity and gut health, food allergies & intolerances, and has worked with clients of all ages over the past 7 years. Learn from her about the most important things to keep you and your loved ones well in 2021!

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(1) When it comes to nutrition for individuals age 60+, how do nutritional recommendations differ from recommendations given to younger people?

Recommendations do tend to be a bit different for 60+ than for the average person, since there are some changes that affect the body’s digestive and metabolic systems as we get older. Vitamin B12 is one that we focus on, because the stomach makes less of the substance that helps the body absorb it. Taking a supplement by mouth doesn’t always mean it is getting into the cells.
There are alternative methods of getting B12 that are right for some people, like a B12 shot – be sure to talk to your doctor about different options.Getting enough B12 keeps nerve cells healthy and prevents some of the changes we associate with aging, like hand tremors and neuropathy, so it is important to talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your B12 status.

A few other changes occur when we age:

  • After menopause, a woman’s need for calcium and vitamin D3 increase to maintain bone density and prevent fractures.
  • Our signals of thirst are not as strong, so it is much easier to become dehydrated since we don’t feel as thirsty.
  • And of course, there may be other specific issues for aging individuals that require special attention, like slowed metabolism & weight gain, prostate issues, cognitive or cardiac health. All of which can often benefit from certain diet changes.

The best way to get an inside scoop on how you or your loved one are doing is to get routine lab work that includes tests for levels of vitamins B12, D3, and markers of hydration. Consider working with both a physician and dietitian to order/interpret blood work and map a plan to keep you strong, healthy, and continuing to enjoy your favorite activities.

(2) Is there something specific to consider for nutrition in the winter/early spring vs. the summer/fall months?

The biggest nutritional consideration that comes with seasonal change is vitamin D3. In the spring and summer, our skin cells convert sunshine into vitamin D that helps with many functions in the body, including bone health, mood, immunity, and hormone balance. the lower the level of the sun in the sky, the less our skin is able to convert.  Even if we are outside for long periods of time (remember too, that our skin is usually covered up in the winter time.
The darker our skin, and the higher the latitude of where we live, the less vitamin D we make. Some people may still not make enough D3 even if they are outside daily in the summertime. This is why getting tested is so important. Optimal levels of vitamin D range between 45-60 nmol/L. Some dietary D3 can be found in dairy products and animal liver, but sometimes a supplement is needed.
It is also good to be aware of dietary habits that change throughout the year, as certain foods go in and out of season. It is common for instance to snack on plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the summertime. In the wintertime we become more reliant on frozen and canned produce, hearty meats and potatoes.
It is good to get a rainbow of colors on the plate year-round to get the good phytonutrients that help fight against aging. Not everyone is aware that frozen produce has as many if not more nutrients than fresh! They are usually picked when ripe then frozen right away, so I tell folks not to shy away from frozen fruits and vegetables when between seasons.

(3) Do you see changes/trends in the way how nutrition is provided (e.g., any difference from what you studied in college?)

Many dietitians and nutritionists will tell you that the most exciting (and sometimes the most frustrating!) thing about nutrition is that the field is always changing and evolving as new research is published.

Dietary fads also come and go over time, depending on what is trendy and seems to be working for people. Because of this, we focus on keeping up with the latest trends and research to provide the best, evidence-based care to our clients that we can – sometimes trends can be helpful, other times they can be harmful (for example, if anyone reading this is old enough to remember what happened with ephedra 20 years ago!).

I think the most exciting thing that has developed since I was in school has been the advent of personalized nutrition – often looking at a person’s genes to see which kind of nutrition is best for them, and whether or not they need supplementation. The old school of thought in nutrition used to focus more on public health and the bell curve model – what worked for the 95 percent.

I love personalized nutrition because it is precise, and takes a lot of the guesswork out of helping clients! I also love that the field of nutrition has become more focused on helping individuals advocate for themselves, educate themselves on their health and health choices, and understanding that there is a spectrum of health in many different body shapes and sizes rather than an ideal that is hard to attain or maintain.

(4) Here in California, people love micronutrient rich products/supplements. Is this something you recommend to seniors? If so, which.

Yes – I grew up in California, and now am practicing telehealth in the Golden state. I can say it is definitely the hub for development of new products! It is hard to have a blanket statement for or against support of different products and supplements, as there are a lot of different factors to consider.
  1. The biggest thing I look for is the quality of the product, and the reputation of the producer – is it a reputable company? Have they been around for many years, or are they new?
  2. Do they stand behind product testing and testing for any contaminants or toxins? Where is the product sourced?
    Last year, there was a lot of controversy around a variety of supplements found on Amazon that either were non-effective, didn’t contain what they were supposed to, or had contaminants from non-reputable, usually foreign companies.
  3. Another thing, especially for seniors, to be aware of, is products that have multiple ingredients, as there is more potential for potentially harmful interactions with prescription medications. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I vet all products that I recommend (they are often ones I take myself), and have a few select companies I work with that have been around for decades and conduct quality testing. A couple of specific examples of products that can be helpful for seniors include things like saw palmetto for prostate health, or lycopene for eye health. If you are ever in doubt about a product on the market, it is best to consult with a doctor &/or dietitian to ensure it will be safe & beneficial for you or your loved one.

(5) Can people eat in a way that helps them prevent/delay cognitive decline?

Absolutely! This is a big one for the 60+ crowd. Who hasn’t experienced the occasional “brain fart” or forgetfulness that comes with aging? There are a lot of helpful things we can do to protect our cognitive health. Believe it or not, the brain is composed of about half and half fat and water! Getting enough healthy fats in the diet will help nourish the brain – think things like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and of course, omega-3 fats at least twice a week from seafood, ground flaxseed and chia seeds. Staying hydrated will also lubricate the brain and help it function properly. In the last few years, there has also been research on how excess sugars can “gunk up” the brain, and may contribute to the development of dementia.Focusing on building a plate with mostly proteins with healthy fats, vegetables and whole grains, limiting sugary drinks and treats to once or twice a week, and drinking at least 8 cups of fluids daily can help keep up brain health. There is also a lot of research that promotes the role of low-impact exercise & doing puzzles (think crosswords, sudoku, etc) on brain health.

Aria Drexler MS, RD, CLT of Intuitrition, LLC is a Registered Dietitian providing nutrition counseling & services to clients in Colorado and California. She specializes in personalized nutrition, autoimmunity and gut health, food allergies & intolerances, and has worked with clients of all ages over the past 7 years. You can find her online at