Eating right is probably the single most important thing you can do for your health. Making certain you choose the proper nutrients and proportions can help you maintain a healthy weight, give you energy to remain independent and can also help you manage chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
You might remember the “food pyramid” you or your children were given to promote good nutrition decades ago. A lot has changed since then! Senior nutritional needs have also changed, as our metabolism slows as we age and we don’t need as many calories, but we do have more need for certain nutrients.
The US Department of Agriculture and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) has put out some excellent, interactive tools on maintaining a healthy diet.
These six points from NCOA are important to keep in mind as you begin to delve into a better way to eat as you age.
1. Know what a healthy plate looks like. There are five main food groups, outlined below. Learn how these five food groups should stack up on your plate by using the tools located here.
FRUITS: Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.VEGETABLES: Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as part of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated, and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed.GRAINS: Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains.
DAIRY: All fluid milk products and foods made from milk that contain their calcium content are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group.
PROTEIN: All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein food group.
2. Look for important nutrients. Even though you may be getting enough calories, you may not be choosing the nutrient-rich foods that are important to keeping you healthy. Nutrient-rich foods have minerals, protein and whole grains. Remember to choose foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium or salt. Also, look for vitamin D, an important mineral as you age. If you’re eating right, your plate should be full of lots of different colors!
- Lean protein (lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans)
- Fruits and vegetables (think orange, red, green, and purple)
- Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
- Low-fat dairy (milk and its alternatives)
3. Read nutrition labels. For the most part, you will find the healthiest food around the perimeter of the grocery store, so stick to the circle around the store if you can. If you do choose packaged foods, be a smart shopper and read the labels! Many older adults already look for foods lower in fat, added sugars and sodium. To ensure you are making healthy food choices, it’s important to learn to read labels effectively. The FDA has a great site to learn about how to read food labels.
Limit Salt and Sodium: Remember, processed foods contain high amounts of sodium. Choose fresh vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood when possible. Using spices or herbs, such as dill, chili powder, paprika, or cumin, and lemon or lime juice, can add flavor without adding salt.
Cut Down on Saturated Fats: Keep foods lean and flavorful. Instead of frying, try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking—they don’t add extra fat. Choose simple substitutions; for example, using nonfat yogurt when you make tuna or chicken salad.
Skip the Added Sugars: Take a half a portion, or just a few bites of a sweet treat, to satisfy the craving, without over-indulging. Cut calories and sugar by drinking water or unsweetened beverages. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugars.
4. Use recommended servings. If you want to maintain your weight, you must eat the correct amount for your age and body. Getting used to your recommended daily serving for your age can be a challenge to master. But as the saying goes, practice makes perfect! Spoon University has an excellent site for calculating your appropriate serving size. The American Heart Association also has a great article on learning the recommended daily servings for adults aged 60+.
5. Stay hydrated. Water is one of the most important nutrients. Drink fluids consistently throughout the day to maintain hydration, especially in the summer months in Arizona! Tea, coffee, non-sugar drinks and water are your best choices. Unless your health provider recommends them, keep fluids that have added sugar and salt to a minimum, as these can dehydrate.
6. Stretch your food budget. You may already have habits to help you stretch your budget and help you to avoid wasting food. Finding good food storage products, preparing food in advance, and freezing and labeling your food can help stretch your budget and avoid waste. Check out the BenefitsCheckUp.org website if you need help paying for healthy food.
Other great resources from the National Council on Aging are these great videos on healthy eating. For further tips to enhance senior nutrition, or to learn more about in home care in Glendale, AZ and the surrounding areas, call Nightingale Homecare any time at (602) 504-1555, and visit our Service Area page to discover all of the areas in Arizona where our services are available.