The changes our bodies experience as we age can often affect our ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We may not feel like eating as much, or be motivated to prepare healthy meals and exercise. The medications we take can impact our appetite and our ability to absorb nutrients, making it harder to get those nutrients into our system, and to control body fat. Even our emotional state is at risk due to aging, and consequently we may find ourselves becoming more reclusive and sedentary, rather than getting out and exercising.
As a result, our diet becomes more important as we get older. Senior citizens should prioritize eating well to improve their quality of life.
Government Guidelines for Good Eating
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided kids and adults with nutritional guidance over the years. You may recall the prominently displayed posters in your classroom regarding the four (and briefly, five) basic food groups. The guidelines have been modernized based on new nutrition research.
The new My Plate guidelines suggest that we include certain types of foods in each meal. The USDA suggests half of each meal should include fruits and vegetables and to include grains with each meal. The USDA also suggests:
- Choosing foods based on your personal profile including age, race and gender
- Encouraging choices low in saturated fats, sodium and sugar
- Making improvements in eating habits in small steps over time
Tips for Senior Meal Planning
For seniors, the suggestions are similar to what the USDA recommends for younger individuals. However, being an older adult may present certain challenges that should be addressed in your diet. It may be difficult for a senior living alone to have raw, fresh-cut fruits daily, or even to cook several meals a day. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get the nutrition you need.
Shop for pre-cut fruits and vegetables or pre-made salads. For some, Dinner preparation is a chore, and cutting up carrots and other vegetables may be challenging. Make it easy to get the nutrition you need by checking ready-to-go options at your supermarket.
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are a good source of folate and other vitamins and minerals important for blood flow and overall health. There are pre-made salads on the market to make it easier to include them in your diet.
Drink more milk as an easy way to add calcium and other important nutrients. Keep in mind that as we get older, we possess smaller amounts of the enzyme that digests milk proteins, so it may be more comfortable to drink lactose-free milk.
A low-sugar, vitamin-fortified breakfast cereal made with whole grains is a great way to start your day. When combined with milk it is a solid nutritional option. Skip the sugary cereals you enjoyed as a child, but do add fresh fruit to add sweetness and boost nutritional value.
What to Avoid in Senior Meals
Older adults should avoid eating too much of the things we’ve always known were bad for our diets, like sweets and cakes, fatty meats and highly-processed fast food. These items continue to present a problem as we age, with potentially more serious repercussions. If we suffer from hypertension, foods with a high sodium count can wreak havoc with our blood pressure. The caffeine from sodas can also negatively affect those with hypertension, and other health conditions. Some foods interact negatively with certain medications, so consult your doctor about foods that could cause problems, and about other good ideas to improve your eating habits and overall health.