Nutrition By The Numbers – What You Need to Know

By knowing our numbers we can monitor how personal food choices may be affecting our bodies. Older Americans are at a higher risk of their health being compromised from things like too much salt, fat or sugar in their diet – or from having too little calcium and other minerals and vitamins.

How Do I Assess My Nutritional Needs?

Seniors can start assessing their nutritional needs by taking the simple step of “knowing their numbers” for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and BMI (body mass index). Taking stock of what foods can help or hurt these numbers lets seniors make healthier choices.

By learning to keep track of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI and talking to your doctor about starting healthier eating habits that addressed the numbers you are concerned with can make a significant impact on the quality of your health. Also accounting for health conditions that already affect you and ones that you’re at risk for also factors into your plan.

By making a few small changes to your diet you’ll likely be able to bring your numbers into a healthier range, to manage the health challenges you may already struggle with, and reduce your chances of developing other chronic diseases.

Defining the “Numbers”

Systolic Blood Pressure: This is the top number of your blood pressure reading. It refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle.

Diastolic Blood Pressure: This is the bottom number of your blood pressure reading. It refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries when the heart rests between beats.

LDL: Stands for “low-density lipoprotein.” Considered “bad” cholesterol, LDL contributes to fatty buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis). LDL increases the risk for heart attack, stroke or peripheral artery disease.

HDL: Stands for “high-density lipoprotein.” Called “good” cholesterol, HDL carries LDL away from the arteries and to the liver where it can be broken down and passed from the body. Healthy HDL levels may protect against heart attack and stroke.

Blood Sugar (Glucose) Level: This is the amount of sugar (glucose) found in your blood. Glucose comes from the food you eat and provides energy to all the cells in your body. However, a blood sugar level that is too high can lead to diabetes.

BMI: Stands for “body mass index.” This is the numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, and other health conditions.

Health Conditions Most Affected by Nutritional Choices

CHF: Stands for “Congestive Heart Failure.” This is a chronic progressive condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to the body’s tissues to keep up with its demands. The symptoms and progression of CHF can be managed or improved with dietary changes (for example, reducing sodium intake).

Diabetes: This is a disease that occurs when your body struggles to manage glucose (blood sugar) levels in the bloodstream. The body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. The resulting high blood sugar levels can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves.A diet high in fiber (replacing simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates) and low in saturated and saturated fats can significantly improve the symptoms of diabetes.

Hypertension: This is another name for high blood pressure (HBP). Hypertension puts an extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. Uncontrolled hypertension leads to heart disease and stroke. You can have HBP for years without any symptoms, but damage to your heart and blood vessels continues.A diet low in sodium but high in potassium, magnesium and fiber can help control or improve hypertension.

Stroke:  A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. Brain cells begin to die in minutes. Quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake and reducing the consumption of red meat and bad fats/cholesterol have been shown to reduce risk factors for stroke.

Involve Your Health Professional

Health professionals recommend that seniors consult first with their doctor before radically changing their diet or fitness program. Taking this step will help to ensure that you don’t have a health condition that could make a diet or activity dangerous for you.