Golden Nutrition: Eating for Retirees

As we hit our retirement years, our nutrition needs change–and no one really tells us what to expect. A lot of our poor dietary choices come from the formation of new habits and social activities, but we can still have fun and enjoy our golden years if we have a little guidance from a great expert. Enter Jenni Beharry, a nutritionist with Caven Nutrition–an award-winning nutrition group in Ottawa, Ontario. We asked Jenni to talk about retirement and eating, and here’s what she shared.

Our full conversation with Jenni can be found on the IP360° Podcast.

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IP 360°: Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do as a nutritionist.

Jenni: I work at Caven Nutrition, a small practice of specialized professionals that work together to help our clients attain their goals. 

As a whole, Caven Nutrition gives focus to a variety of issues, ranging from eating disorders to athletic ambitions, though we tend to address the more general question of how to sustainably fuel your unique body. While weight loss is a common objective for many of our clients, this is often a natural consequence of identifying and treating some other root issue. My area of focus as a nutritionist centers on digestive treatment as well as educating young women on hormonal imbalance and menstruation. 

IP 360°: What inspired you to become a nutritionist?

Jenni: After meeting with Rachel  [the founder of Caven Nutrition] to discuss my persistent migraines, I discovered that this physical pain was directly correlated to my dietary choices. As a video production manager at the time, I was unable to focus on my work, and Rachel helped me identify the foods that were triggering this discomfort. That same year, there was a job opening as an assistant at Caven Nutrition, and I was lucky to have been hired for this role despite my lack of industry experience. Following this opportunity, I enrolled in a nutrition program, started to work directly with clients, and have not looked back since. Even if it was never originally a goal of mine to become a nutritionist, it’s a profession that allows me to showcase empathy, care, and friendship in my daily life.

IP 360°: As one transitions into retirement life, what are some metabolic or general changes that someone may experience as they age?

Jenni: There are universal physical changes that manifest with age such as reduced probiotic production, weaker bone density, and digestive issues. Introducing new foods, such as Greek yogurt and kombucha,  can aid in managing these physiological changes, though it is still recommended to schedule regular physicals with a medical doctor to understand your individual situation.

Beyond this physical transition, there are also cognitive and lifestyle shifts that arise when one adjusts to retirement. When your pace of life slows down, it should not be a step back, but rather a step towards new hobbies that keep you physically and mentally active. Whether it be in volunteering or taking care of your grandchildren, try to maintain structure in your flexible schedule. Many treat aging as an indication that their bodies and mind will stop functioning altogether; however, it is necessary to challenge this attitude to preserve purpose in this second phase of your life.

IP 360°: Physical exercise is important at any age, but how essential is it for overall well-being as you grow older?

Jenni: Unfortunately, the common misconception of “becoming bulky” hinders many women from performing weight-bearing exercises. In addition to consuming calcium-rich foods and taking a daily Vitamin D supplement, weightlifting is actually one of the most valuable activities for maintaining bone health. Even when balancing family, work, and other responsibilities, it’s just as important to make exercise a priority so that you can age with vitality. Even simple and intentional movement, such as walking, will help you sustain the strength required to lift your grandchild in your sixties.

IP 360°: Due to the flexibility that comes with retirement, there is often more opportunity to travel the world and have that extra glass of wine with dinner. Do you have any tips for retirees who want to maintain healthy habits in spite of these lifestyle changes?

Jenni: Like with all other aspects of life, it is all about striking a balance and dismissing an all-or-nothing mindset. Despite the fact that alcohol will not produce good gut bacteria, it is still important to enjoy life, and that may mean occasionally drinking wine with friends. Similarly, don’t hesitate to order that bowl of pasta in Italy. Instead, make the effort to incorporate new habits that will enhance your health, such as taking a probiotic before a night of drinking or adding a protein to your Italian dinner. In my experience, I have also noticed that many clients lose weight when they are on vacation since those unique food experiences are often coupled with the power of increased activity, such as walking around everywhere.

IP 360°: What’s your opinion on the common approach of calorie counting in order to be in an energy deficit and ultimately lose weight?

Jenni: The main problem with calorie counting is that oftentimes people will continue to eat the incorrect things and disregard nutrient density. When it comes to losing weight and introducing a healthier diet, the nutritional profile of your food is key because 100 calories of celery will look very different from 100 calories of chips. Being calorie-aware can lead you to better choices, but it must coexist with an understanding of what actually goes into these foods and the quality of the ingredients.

IP 360°: Can you tell us more about the role of diet in brain health?

Jenni: Since our brains are primarily made of fat, you must consume a sufficient amount of healthy fats to maintain its health, no matter your age. Unfortunately, the fat-free diet craze has led some to demonize avocados and nuts, both of which will nourish you with their excellent nutritional profiles. Similar foods like flax, eggs, and coconut all promote satiety, joint lubrication, and even glowing skin. Instead of applying oils on your face, consider ingesting these fats by simply adding olive oil to your salad. However, there is an important distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats. Excess amounts of high-fat dairy and meat products will likely lead to digestive issues and other complications.

IP 360°: Getting an adequate amount of Vitamin D can be especially difficult for North Americans. How important is this vitamin for our general health?

Jenni: When I advise my clients on supplements, Vitamin D is always a non-negotiable. While going for a walk between 11 am and 2 pm can give us sunlight exposure, this break can be hard to fit in due to busy schedules and stormy winters. Not only does Vitamin D promote bone health and the absorption of other nutrients, it also plays a critical role in positive mental health. This is why adding Vitamin D drops to your everyday routine is so important for all Canadians, especially when getting through dark winter days.

IP 360°: Throughout the pandemic, many of us found ourselves making frequent visits to the kitchen for yet another snack. How can one practice mindful eating to put the brakes on unnecessary grazing?

Jenni: Building a routine to plan your meals in advance often limits mindless snacking throughout your day. When you do feel hungry, try to put together a balanced snack that will keep you full so that you are not overeating the cookies in your pantry later on. For example, instead of just eating a peach, pair it with some seeds or nuts for greater satiety. 

We unintentionally make many practical and nutritious foods inconvenient by not setting ourselves up for success. It is as simple as taking the time to peel and pack an orange ahead of time, rather than carrying a slowly rotting fruit back and forth from work. An easy change such as this one can make a huge difference in the long run.

IP 360°: What is your favourite part of being a nutritionist?

Jenni: As a nutritionist who has worked with a diverse range of clients, I’ve come to realize that I have the opportunity to uncover a deeper level of thinking that goes beyond a person’s food choices. Oftentimes, a client will come to us with the intention of simply losing weight, but will leave with so much more. My job puts me in a position where I can shed light on these insights and offer others a type of love that I wish to put out into the world.

Learn more about Jenni and the Caven Nutrition team on their website. Or, read another Caven nutrition interview on eating right for busy executives.

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