May 1st, 2020
Good nutrition is important. Not only does it give you energy and help control weight, but it can also help prevent some diseases, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Good eating habits are important, too, because a healthy and balanced diet provides your body with the proper nutrients it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function and grow, and include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.
As you age, combining the right eating habits with good nutrition becomes more important than ever. Your body and life change, and so does what you need to stay healthy. For example, you may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. And some older adults may encounter specific changes, such as a need for more protein.
To help seniors stay on top of their eating and nutrition habits, here are some helpful guidelines.
WHAT IS A GOOD DIET?
Most people get the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need by maintaining a well-balanced diet, but many older adults don’t. These are the areas where they often fall short.
B vitamins. Vitamins B6, B12, and folate, also called folic acid. All three are often found in cereals with added vitamins, but you can also get:
• B6 in whole grains and organ meats, like liver
• B12 in lean meats and some fish
• Folate from dark greens, beans, and peas
Calcium and vitamin D. These are important for strong bones. Calcium is in dairy products, like milk and yogurt, and in dark, green, leafy vegetables, like broccoli and kale. Vitamin D is most easily acquired from being out in the sun, but that can be harder for someone who’s unwell. So look for products with added vitamin D.
Fiber. Fiber is good for the heart, helps prevent diabetes, and keeps you regular to avoid constipation. Good sources include beans, whole grains, and veggies.
Healthy fats. Try to limit fat (especially saturated) and cholesterol, and totally avoid trans fats. They can lead to heart and blood pressure problems.
Potassium. Not eating enough potassium can raise blood pressure. You get potassium in foods such as bananas, potatoes, and yogurt.
HOW TO MAKE NUTRITION EASIER
Here are 5 tips to help you find the best foods for your body and your budget.
1. Identify a healthy plate
First there was the food pyramid. Now the USDA has unveiled a simpler way to help people see what they should eat each day. It’s called MyPlate. The simple graphic shows exactly how the five food groups should stack up on your plate. These are the building blocks for a healthy diet.
2. Focus on important nutrients
It’s important to make sure you eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Your plate should look like a rainbow—bright, colored foods are always the best choice! A healthy meal should include:
• Lean protein (lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans)
• Fruits and vegetables (think orange, red, green, and purple)
• Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
• Low-fat dairy (milk and its alternatives)
Remember to choose foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium or salt. Also, look for Vitamin D, an important mineral as we age.
3. Study the Nutrition Facts label
Whole foods are always the healthiest foods. These are often found on the perimeter of the grocery store in the produce, meat, and dairy sections. When you do eat packaged foods, be a smart shopper! Read the labels to find items that are lower in fat, added sugars, and sodium.
4. Stick to recommended servings
To maintain your weight, it is advised to eat the right amount of food for your age and body. The American Heart Association provides recommended daily servings for adults aged 60+.
5. Maximize your food budget
For the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, check out the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It can help you afford healthy food when you need it. Over 4 million older Americans use SNAP to buy food, and the average senior receives $113 each month. Visit BenefitsCheckUp.org/getSNAP to see if the program can help you.
OTHER COMMON CHALLENGES
Dull taste buds and loss of appetite.
Sense of taste often gets weaker with age, and some medicines make things worse. That can affect you or your loved one’s desire to eat. To make meals more appealing, you can:
• Skip the salt, but add lemon juice, vinegar, herbs, and spices to kick up the flavor.
• Use brightly colored foods to make meals more appealing.
• Vary the tastes and textures.
You might also eat 5-6 small meals or snacks instead of three larger ones. And try to maintain some level of physical activity, if you can. A walk or even washing dishes can help boost appetite.
If a sore mouth makes eating difficult, try softer, creamier foods, such as baked sweet potatoes or pasta. Also, have a dentist check your dentures or teeth for correctable problems.
Strength and coordination issues.
If utensils are hard to use, try finger foods, like cheese cubes or cut-up sandwiches.