Eating well is important at any age, but even more necessary for seniors, who need to be aware of their changing nutritional needs. Adequate nutrition is necessary for your health, quality of life and vitality. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many seniors are not eating as well as they should, which can lead to poor nutrition or malnutrition.
Healthy eating begins with you! Giving your body the right nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight can help you stay active and independent. You’ll also spend less time and money at the doctor. This is especially true if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.
The definition of healthy eating does change a little as you age. For example, as you grow older, your metabolism slows down, so you need fewer calories than before. Your body also needs more of certain nutrients. That means it’s more important than ever to choose foods that give you the best nutritional value.
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Choose foods with the deepest, darkest color you can find. Their natural color means they’re loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Blueberries, red raspberries, and dark cherries are ideal fruit. Dark, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are vegetable powerhouses. You can have them all year because the nutrients in frozen food are just as good as in fresh. Just be sure to check your diet with your doctor if you are on any medications like blood thinners that may limit your intake of certain food types.
Dairy is a very important food group for eating well as you get older because it’s a great source of calcium. Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth, and it plays a role in your heart, muscle and nerve health. Your body’s ability to absorb calcium decreases with age, so calcium intake needs to be high. Milk gives you nearly all the calcium you need in three 8-ounce servings. And dairy is a great source of vitamin D, also essential for healthy bones. If you can’t eat dairy products, other sources of calcium include seeds (like poppy, sesame & celery), sardines and salmon with edible bones, beans & lentils, nuts (like almonds), and dark leafy greens (like Kale, collards and broccoli).
These powerhouse foods are essential for maintaining good health. A good source of B vitamins, whole grains are also loaded with fiber. Whole-grain foods have become easier to find and include much more than whole wheat. Just be sure you are getting the whole grain and not a de-germinated variety. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, quinoa, spelt, rye and brown rice.
A number of foods will give you the protein you need, including fish, poultry, pork, beef, legumes (dry beans, peas & lentils), nuts, and dairy products. If you choose to eat meat, make it lean, and aim for a modest portion – about the size of a deck of cards. Oily fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, another important element of a healthy diet. Aim for two servings of fish per week. Proteins help build and maintain muscle and other tissue, as well as play a role in regulating your body’s tissues and organs.
Eating well includes drinking well and water is key. Avoid getting dehydrated by drinking small amounts of fluids throughout the day. Fluid intake includes other beverages such as coffee, juice or tea, and water in foods. But limit fluids with sugar and salt. Drinking water helps maintain a balance of body fluids. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. Each day you need to replace fluids lost through perspiration, respiration, and elimination. Adequate fluid intake helps energize your muscles and keeps your skin looking healthy.
Toward Eating Well
If you are having trouble getting enough heathy calories, there are some solid ideas for eating better. Some excellent ways to boost caloric intake include:
- Milk shakes and smoothies – which pack a lot of calories and make great meals for seniors with problems chewing and digesting their food.
- Dehydrated milk – when added to cereal or a creamy sauce will boost calories and needed protein.
- Eggnog – which delivers a lot of calories and does not need to be limited to holiday fare.
- Olive oil – when added to everything from salad dressings to stir fries to popcorn or used as a bread dip will add healthy calories to any meal or snack.
- Nuts or seeds – when sprinkled on yogurt, cereal or oatmeal; or added to a stir fry, muffins or pancakes will increase calories and the nutritional value of those foods.
Studies show that a good diet in later years can reduce your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart diseases and certain cancers. As you age, you might need less energy, but you still need all of the nutrients in food. Eating well includes using the information above to create a balanced nutritious diet to best sustain your body.