As we get older, it is particularly important to select foods that supply the correct balance of nutrition to the body. A healthy diet can help fight or avoid infection and disease and keep you active. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your meals.
When deciding what to eat each day, it is helpful to think about what your plate should look like. A healthy plate, for all adults, but especially for seniors, should include fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, and protein. Fruits and vegetables should take up one-half of your plate and include a variety of vegetables from all vegetable subgroups: dark green, starchy, red and orange, and beans and peas. Eat fresh, whole fruits, whenever possible. Include canned, frozen, or dried fruits as well.
Half of the grains on your plate should be whole grains, which contain the entire grain kernel – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice.
Food including meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein foods group. When choosing beef, look for lean cuts such as round or sirloin and ground beef that is at least 92% lean. Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin.
Be sure to include dairy as part of your meal. Dairy provides nutrients needed, including calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. Select low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. Use plain low-fat yogurt to top baked potatoes, as a sandwich spread, or in a smoothie.
A Rainbow of Colors
To get all the nutrients you need, your need to eat a variety of foods. Your meal should look like a rainbow representing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy.
Shop the Perimeter
Whole, unprocessed foods, are the healthiest and are found on the perimeter of the grocery store in the produce, meat, and dairy sections. Avoid the center aisles where the packaged, processed foods are found.
Read the Labels
The nutritional facts labels on boxes and cans have a wealth of information about fat, added sugars, and sodium. This information can help you reduce your intake of these three non-nutrients that are unhealthy. Select foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium or salt. Look for Vitamin D, an important mineral that is often lacking in our bodies as we age.
How Much Should We Eat?
The amount of food and calories we need each day changes as we get older. To maintain weight, we must eat the right amount of food for our age and body. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states the number of calories needed per day varies according to activity level. If you are not active, aim for at least 1,600 calories per day. If you are moderately active – walking between 1.5 and 3 miles per day or attending an exercise class each week – you need about 1,800 calories per day. Active seniors should strive for about 2,000 calories each day.
Water is an important nutrient! Drink small amounts of fluids consistently throughout the day so you do not get dehydrated. Water is best, but tea and coffee are OK; just keep fluids with sugar and salt at a minimum, unless your doctor suggests otherwise.
More Specifics About Nutrients
- Fiber – Our digestive system shows down as we get older. Foods rich in fiber promote proper digestion by moving food through the digestive tract and can reduce the risk of heart disease. Fiber-rich foods include nuts, whole grain cereal, whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, brown bread, fruits, and vegetables.
- Iron – Iron plays a key role in producing hemoglobin in the body, which carries oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron-rich foods include spinach, beef or chicken liver, sardines, clams, mussels, oysters, lentils and beans, and turkey, ham, and veal.
- Vitamin C – Foods rich in Vitamin C have antioxidant properties which are believed to prevent cancer and heart disease. Vitamin C is also involved in the production of collagen, which gives skin elasticity. It helps repair bones and teeth and aids in healing wounds. This essential vitamin can be found in fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin D – This vital vitamin aids in the absorption of calcium in the body, slowing down the rate at which bones lose calcium; thus, helping to prevent osteoporosis and other chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin D - rich foods include eggs, salmon and tuna. Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as cereals, milk, yogurt, and juices.
- Vitamin B12 – Responsible for maintaining nerve function, production of red blood cells, and DNA, vitamin B12 is found in dairy products such as milk and meat and poultry.
- Potassium – It is recommended that older adults consume 4700 mg of potassium daily. Potassium aids in cell function, reduces blood pressure and lowers the chance of developing kidney stones. Potassium is found in bananas, prunes, sweet potatoes and white potatoes.
- Magnesium – Vital to over 300 physiological functions in the body, including keeping the heart healthy and the immune system and bones strong. As we age, the body’s ability to absorb magnesium decreases. Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, nuts, fresh fruit, and vegetables.
- Calcium – As we grow older, we consume less calcium even though it helps our bodies build and maintain healthy bones. If we don’t get enough calcium, the body begins to reabsorb it from the bones, making them fragile and brittle, leading to osteoporosis. Calcium-rich foods are mostly dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheeses, as well as leafy green vegetables and cereals or orange juice fortified with calcium.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Important for people of all ages, omega-3 fatty acids help prevent inflammation, which can cause cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease. Omega 3s have also been found to slow the progression of macular degeneration, a condition that leads to poor vision. Recent evidence has shown these fatty acids may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and keep the brain alert. Omega-3s can be found in fish; mainly sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon. They are also in flaxseed, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts.
You Can’t Have One Without the Other
Proper diet and a healthy life are like … well, “love and marriage or a horse and carriage.” Especially for older adults, selecting the right, healthy foods will make a huge difference in the quality and duration of life.
In addition to housing, healthcare and programs for seniors, SALMON Health and Retirement communities offer support groups and resources for caregivers and family members. To learn more about the options available to you and your loved ones, contact us today by calling 800-446-8060 for more information.