Senior nutrition is more than just a source of comfort. The foods we eat directly affect our health. Food is fuel for the body, and to get good results, you have to use high-quality fuel. Healthy eating can help you feel healthier, and may even help you live longer. The right diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, or if you already have heart health issues, lower your risk of heart complications. A healthy diet may even prevent dementia. Here’s what you need to know in order to eat food that’s both tasty and nutritious.
Healthy Eating Guidelines Have Changed
When you were a child, you might have relied on the four food groups. Perhaps your parents taught you that as long as you ate a meat, a starch, a few vegetables, and a fruit, you were eating well. Many meals that we once thought were healthy aren’t very healthy at all. Some common mistakes seniors make include:
- Feeling like they must clean their plates, causing them to eat too many calories
- Choosing unhealthy meats, including high fat meats, too much red meat, or fried and processed meats
- Thinking any vegetable is healthy, no matter how it is prepared
- Eating too many foods that are high in calories, but low in nutrition, such as white bread and rice
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate is an excellent guide to healthier eating. Learn more here about what should be on your plate.
Your Sense of Taste May Change
Aging can dull your sense of taste and smell. This can affect your appetite in several ways. Some people might crave more seasonings. If that sounds familiar, avoid excess salt and sugar. Instead, try spicy peppers, garlic, and herbs.
Other people find that age-related taste changes reduce their appetite. You might need to find new ways to prepare favorite foods. Some seniors add protein shakes or nutritional shakes into their diet to ensure they get enough calories and that they don’t lack important nutrients.
Your Metabolism Might Slow Down
Aging tends to slow your metabolism. This means that if you keep eating the same number of calories as before, you will gain weight. A slower metabolism also means slower digestion. For many seniors, this causes uncomfortable constipation. To stay healthy with a slower metabolism:
- Drink plenty of water to keep things moving and avoid hard, painful stools.
- Keep exercising. No age is too old for exercise. Staying physically strong will keep you healthy and prevent weight gain.
- Cut empty calories from your diet. Instead of nutrient-poor white bread, try oatmeal or quinoa. Instead of candy, try a sweet fruit like mango or a fresh peach.
Certain Nutrients Are Especially Important
A balanced diet is important at every age, but certain nutrients play a central role in preserving senior health. Those include:
- Protein: Protein supports healthy muscles, which can reduce the risk of weakness, pain, falls, and loss of bone density. Guidelines vary, but there’s no upper limit on protein. The more, the better. To determine how many grams of protein you need each day, multiply your weight by 0.36.
- Calcium and vitamin D: Together, these two nutrients can prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of bone fractures. Time in natural sunlight can help you get enough vitamin D. Foods that are rich in both calcium and vitamin D include dairy products, like cheese and milk, and most meats.
- Fiber: Fiber can help you avoid constipation. Studies have also linked fiber consumption to better heart health and a longer life. Whole grains—such as breads and cereals—and most fruits and vegetables are fiber-rich.
Healthy Eating Doesn’t Mean Depriving Yourself
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally indulging in a sweet or savory snack. Stop thinking of foods in terms of “good” and “bad,” and instead think about the nutrients and calories each food offers. You can still enjoy a few cookies, as long as you don’t overeat during the day and you make sure to get key nutrients elsewhere.
Craving comfort foods? Missing the fried dinners that were a staple of your youth? You can eat your favorite comfort foods and stay healthy. Check out this guide to adapting comfort foods for better health.
Senior living communities can help you stay healthy and enjoy excellent food—without ever having to cook or shop for groceries again. To learn more about your options or to explore what senior living might offer you, check out our senior living guides.