Narrator: Question: Can the foods you eat actually affect your health as you get older? Gloria thinks so.
Gloria: When my cholesterol flipped and you know, I started to have high blood pressure, then I knew it was either change my diet or get sicker.
Narrator: At 79, this retired registered nurse prepares most of her meals from scratch and uses lots of fresh ingredients and whole grains.
Gloria: I make all my soups because I can control the fat and the salt, and I'll use onions, legumes, you know, and I use the beans, lentils...
Narrator: Richard, who is 64 and works from his home as an architectural renderer, follows a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
Richard: In the summertime, like now, fruit is my favorite food, so I eat probably more fruit than anything else, and I also like vegetables, both salads and steamed vegetables.
Narrator: He also knows that eating well can help him maintain his health as he gets older.
Richard: I know that eating vegetables, mainly vegetables, and fruit -- you'll just have fewer health problems. It's just a way of protecting the body.
Narrator: It's true. Many of the diseases that commonly occur with aging can be controlled or delayed through diet.
Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: Many of the most common and most serious chronic diseases that occur with aging are very amenable to dietary changes. This includes diseases like cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes. Many of these disease processes can be delayed and lessened by the right dietary interventions.
Narrator: When Gloria found out she had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, she changed her diet to help control these conditions.
Gloria: I changed my diet because I realized that high blood pressure and not being under control and the cholesterol being high would jeopardize other organs in my body. For instance, the heart could be affected, and so in order to prevent that from happening, it was easier for me to change my diet.
Gloria: It probably needs a little more liquid.
Narrator: By preparing dishes like this chicken and vegetable soup from scratch, Gloria avoids the high levels of salt found in many canned soups, and controlling the salt helps with her high blood pressure.
Gloria: Sodium, 890 milligrams, and that's one of the reasons I make my own broth.
Narrator: Dr. Connie Bales advises older people to think about their specific health issues when planning their diets.
Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: For an individual who is battling hypertension and who is salt sensitive, then salt becomes a very important concern for that individual. But for let's say a woman who has osteoporosis, salt may not be a very important concern. She is interested in making sure she has plenty of calcium and vitamin D in her diet.
Narrator: Maintaining a proper weight is often an issue for older adults. Richard notices that his weight is affected by his diet, so he keeps tabs on how much he eats.
Richard: I love bread. I've always loved bread. I like making biscuits, and then I can eat them several times a day. I also weigh myself every morning, and when I eat a lot of biscuits, I'll see that weight climbing up.
Narrator: Besides cutting back on the biscuits, Richard exercises and plays sports on a regular basis. Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help with weight control. Gloria, on the other hand, has to make sure that she consumes enough calories to maintain her weight.
Gloria: All my life, I've been underweight. After I turned 40, I started to gain weight a little at a time, and my cardiologist said, "I think you'll be able to control your diabetes if you drop 10 pounds." Well, I overdid it and I lost 23. Now I realize that I have to eat to maintain a weight, and I need to gain about 5 pounds.
Narrator: If you would like to eat healthier, you can begin by taking small steps, making one change at a time.
Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: So what we recommend is to start very small with easy changes. For example, drop the bedtime snack or change it to a healthy snack. We also encourage you to keep a health diary. Write down every day these behaviors that you change, because the small changes can go together to add up to have real health impact.
Narrator: Making wise food choices now can help you stay healthy and independent in the years to come.
Richard: I know that I'm getting older. It's a way of protecting myself from having a lot of extreme problems as I get older. I want that life to be as nice -- I'd like to run as long as I can and do sports as long as I can.