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The Power of Healthy Food

By Carol Witte, RDN, Program Director of Nutrition Services & Senior Centers

What you eat does impact your health!  Instead of focusing on foods to avoid, we need to focus on food items to include that impact our health positively. Choose more nutrient dense food to keep your body healthy. Increase foods which contain important minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Potassium is a mineral that, among other things, helps your muscles contract and helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells. It also helps maintain normal blood pressure by blunting the effect of sodium. Evidence is mounting that potassium may help reduce blood pressure. Although there is not quite enough proof out there to support the claim just yet. Potassium may also reduce your risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly bone loss as we get older. Guidelines issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science encourage adults to consume of at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day. That’s almost double what most of us actually consume. If you have issues with kidney function or if you are on dialysis, you need to restrict, not include more potassium. All fruits, vegetables, milk, whole grains as well as meat, fish and nuts are great sources of potassium.

Calcium is perhaps the most essential nutrient when it comes to bone health. Building and maintaining strong bones is like building a healthy balance for your body. Bones are living tissue and constantly in a state of turnover, making calcium deposits and withdrawals daily. The more sources of calcium you include throughout the day the better. Dairy foods, including fat free milk, are the best source of calcium for you. Calcium is absorbed best if your intake of calcium-rich foods is spread out during the day. The recommended amount of calcium for older adults is 1200-1500mg per day and should not exceed 2,500 milligrams per day.

Magnesium is an important part of the more than 300 enzymes found in your body. Enzymes are body chemicals that help regulate many bodily functions, including the production of energy, body protein and muscle contractions. It also plays a role in maintaining healthy bones and a healthy heart.  Magnesium is a major mineral, meaning it exists in your body in significant amounts. The average person needs to consume between 300 and 400 milligrams of magnesium a day. Foods rich in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. Fresh fruits and vegetables also provide a modest amount of magnesium.

Eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods is the best way for most people to obtain the nutrients they need to be healthy and reduce their risk of chronic disease. Focus on foods like dark green leafy vegetables, such as arugula, spinach and Swiss chard. They not only offer a good source of potassium and magnesium, as stated above, but provide you with flavonoids, vitamin C and Beta-carotene to provide antioxidant protection. Berries, nuts, seeds and beans are also important in this mix. Variety and eating in color is the key. Don’t forget to flavor the food you eat with garlic, onion and herbs to not only enhance the flavor but add extra health benefits. Celebrate spring by including colorful vegetables and fruits in your diet.