Eating well is important for everyone, and the consequences of eating poorly are hazardous for almost everyone except college kids and the Cookie Monster. And even the Cookie Monster has started eating vegetables! But seniors especially need to up their nutrition game as they get older because good food and good nutrition can be as effective as good medicine. Why eat well? Healthy eating can reduce risk of developing disease, help manage the progression of disease such as high blood pressure, and control weight to ease the burden on the heart and lungs. Whether you subscribe to the theories about antioxidants, low-calorie diets, plant-based diets, or fasting – or not – the fact is that you are what you eat. When caregivers, loved ones, and homecare companions are eating chips instead of chicken, then they’re not eating to win. Let’s take a minute during National Nutrition Month to review the basics of healthy eating for seniors.
There are many resources available to seniors who want to eat well and stay healthy, and National Nutrition Month is the perfect time to take a look at all the great advice. Here are three lists you can use to spice up, slim down, and chow down your healthier diet:
EatRight.Org offers these handy short cuts to a healthy diet:
- Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits
- Eat a rainbow of veggies, from the dark green, to the red and orange
- Add colorful beans and peas to the rainbow
- Frozen and canned veggies are just as good as fresh, but be sure to pick the reduced sodium or no salt added cans
- Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits make great snacks or meal additions.
- Choose canned fruits in water or 100% juice, not sugary syrup
- Choose 100% whole-grain cereal, bread, pasta, and crackers, over the processed white flour alternatives.
- Choose brown rice in place of white rice.
- Remember, fiber-rich cereal keeps you regular!
- Older bones need more calcium and vitamin D to stay healthy:
- Eat three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese each day
- Are you lactose intolerant? Go with lactose-free milk, or calcium-fortified soy, almond, cashew or coconut beverage.
- Add flavor to foods with spices and herbs instead of salt
- Look for low-sodium versions of any packaged or canned foods you buy
- If slicing or chopping fruits and vegetables is a challenge, look for pre-sliced fruits and vegetables on sale
- If the meds you take affect your appetite, ask your doctor to try an alternative
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Soda is just empty calories!
- Consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests:
- Vary your proteins by changing your choices up among seafood, nuts, beans, peas, lean meat, poultry and eggs.
- You don’t have to give up desserts, pizza, cheese, sausages and hot dogs, but eat them occasionally, not every day
- Enjoy your food but eat less: you just don’t need as many calories as you used to
- Restrain your portion sizes by using a smaller plate, bowl and glass.
- Cook at home more often, so you can control the ingredients and portions
- At restaurants, choose the lower calorie menu options, and put aside half to take home before you even start eating
- Try keeping a food journal
- Be physically active your way: find something you like, and just get moving. Every little bit counts
- If you have special dietary needs, consider consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist who will create a customized eating plan for you. What could be easier?
Find more resources, including games, cheat sheets and handouts on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, and get healthy one bite at a time.