Have you caught yourself doing something in one area of your life that you would never even dream of doing in another?
For example, most of us do not buy “one-size-fits-all” clothing, shoes, or even bedding. If we wear a size 11 dress, size 6 shoe, and have a king-size bed, we shop for and purchase a size 11 dress, size 6 shoe, and king-size sheets. This, of course, makes total sense.
Then why, I would ask, do so many of us Boomers do exactly the opposite when it comes to making sure that our bodies are getting the nutrients we need – and in the right amounts – to protect our health?
While we may not want to admit it, I would bet that most of us try to eat what we would consider a “healthy diet” and then take a multivitamin and mineral supplement to “fill in any gaps” just in case we aren’t getting enough micronutrients.
The problem with this approach, however, is that we are assuming that everyone needs the same nutrients in the same amounts to stay healthy. But by following this philosophy, we are giving ourselves a false sense of security.
The truth is that no two people have the same nutritional needs for protecting their health (which is even more important given the times we are living in). And in any event, more than 90 percent of Americans consume less than the RDA for many nutrients.
An analogy to this “one-size-fits-all” concept is body temperature. For the longest time, we were taught that 98.6 F (36.6 C) is the norm and any deviation from this reading was something to be concerned about and possibly treated.
We now know that not only do our body temperatures vary throughout the day, but that there actually is a range of normal body temperatures. What is considered normal to me may be high to you and low to someone else. The same applies to nutrition.
While RDAs for various nutrients are a good starting point for knowing how much of any given micronutrient we need, they are designed to indicate the minimum amounts an average person needs to stay healthy.
The key words here are minimum and average. When it comes to my health, I go out of my way to do more than the minimum, and I hate to think of myself as average. As Boomer women, we also need to remember that our nutrient needs change as we get older.
For reasons such as physical changes due to aging, reduced appetite as we age, medications or chronic illness such as metabolic syndrome, or gastrointestinal surgeries, our bodies may not absorb nutrients as efficiently as they did when we were younger.
We also may have genetic factors that make our bodies need more of a given nutrient than other women.
No matter the reason, if we just follow the RDA for any given nutrient, the odds are that we are going to come up short. This, in turn, can negatively impact many of our bodies’ systems as well as make us more vulnerable to pathogens or worsen any chronic conditions we may have.
In fact, about 80 percent of preventable diseases may be attributed to nutritional deficiencies. Given this percentage, you can see how doing the “minimum” when it comes to nutrition may not be the best idea.
There are some nutrients that we really need to focus on as Boomers to help protect our bodies – or at least minimize the impact from age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, weaker immune response, and even reduced cognitive function. So, you may need more than the RDA of the following:
Zinc is important for boosting your immune system and protecting against respiratory illness. It can be found in green vegetables, nuts, beans, and dark baking chocolate.
One compound important for bone health is vitamin D since it helps your body absorb calcium. It also helps with blood pressure and immune response. Good sources are fatty fish, cheese, and egg yolks. The best source, however, is sunlight.
Calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and avoiding osteoporosis. It is plentiful in milk, cheese, and other dairy as well as green leafy vegetables.
Another important compound for healthy brain function and making red blood cells is vitamin B12. Good sources of this vitamin are lean meat and seafood as well as poultry and dairy products.
For a healthy heart, nervous system, and muscle function you need potassium. You can get this nutrient from fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Omega-3 fatty acids can lower heart disease risk and are found in cold-water fatty fish, plant oils, nuts, and seeds.
Magnesium is an important nutrient that helps boost your immune system, keeps your bones strong, and promotes cardiovascular health. Good sources are whole wheat, green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate (in moderation), and avocados.
If you are concerned about anemia, adequate iron intake can help you with that. It can be found in fortified breakfast cereals, beans (lentils, soy), dark chocolate, spinach, and organ meats.
Protein is key in muscle building and repair. You can get protein from low-fat yogurt, seeds, eggs, lean meats, fish, tofu, and beans.
Just as there is no “one-size-fits-all” to best determine your nutritional needs, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” diet for attaining proper nutritional balance. So, while your best friend may swear on veggie burgers and oatmeal-and-mango smoothies, your ideal mix of foods will depend on your unique needs.
Even identical twins will process the same foods differently. The good news here is that there are literally countless possibilities for developing your diet.
I have two other recommendations to better personalize your nutritional goals and your diet. The first is to consider a more comprehensive nutritional test and analysis than the one your doctor most likely gives you during your annual physical.
Routine tests at the doctor’s office will only measure what I call the “hit parade” of nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D, but will usually not include other important nutrients such as zinc and magnesium.
Armed with the result of a more comprehensive test, you and your healthcare provider can develop personalized nutritional goals along with a diet plan to achieve them.
The second recommendation is to start tracking the results of your nutritional tests to better help identify your baseline and trends. With this information, you and your healthcare provider will be able to more readily identify possible nutritional issues before they can impact your health.
For example, a vitamin B12 level of 350 picograms per milliliter is in the normal range, and if a single blood test reports this amount, you would probably assume everything is fine. But if your previous three tests were all around 600, then this sudden drop to 350 would be something to look at. (To give perspective, the normal level is between 190 and 950).
Remember, one size does not fit all!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.
Do you have a general idea of what nutrients your body needs to stay healthy? Have you and your doctor ever set nutritional goals for you? Do you have a diet that helps you achieve them? Where do you get your nutritional information from? Please join the conversation.