Nutritional Recommendations for Seniors
Maintaining a healthy diet becomes an increasingly important way for seniors to stay active, energized and reduce the risk of common chronic conditions like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and more.
However, many seniors can find it challenging to follow a healthy, satisfying diet. According to the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) only 11 percent of older adults eat enough fruit and vegetables.
Most seniors need modified or specialized diets to help counteract some of the common changes that come with age. For example, older adults often have a slower metabolism, which means they don’t need as many calories to maintain their weight. Though typical nutrition recommendations are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, a doctor can review factors such as age, gender, and level of physical activity to help determine the right amount of calories for your loved one.
A healthy meal should include:
• Lean protein, such as lean meats, seafood, eggs or beans
• Fruits and vegetables, especially those that are orange, red, green, or purple
• Whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat pasta
• Low-fat milk and other dairy alternatives
Studies have shown that a Mediterranean-based diet may contain a number of health benefits for most people, and particularly aging adults. In a Mediterranean diet, meals typically include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, and lots of extra virgin olive oil for cooking, dressing or dipping. Fish is another major staple, though other lean meats are only eaten occasionally, and in smaller portions.
Researchers have found that people who consistently followed this pattern of eating were about 40 percent more likely to age without developing chronic diseases and memory or physical problems, compared to those who didn't eat as well. Other recent studies have shown that older adults who followed a Mediterranean-based diet had as much as a 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment.
What’s more, an analysis of hundreds of the world’s centenarians – those who live to be 100 years old – found that their diets consist mostly of plants, and eat meat only rarely. These centenarians, who live in communities with high concentrations of healthy older adults, follow more traditional diets that incorporate local ingredients.
No matter what diet plan you follow, try to avoid items that are high in added sugars, sodium or salt. And remember that water is an important nutrient, as well. Seniors especially should drink small amounts of fluids throughout the day to avoid dehydration, which can contribute to other health complications.
Some older adults may struggle to afford healthy, nutrient-dense foods. Luckily, there are programs available to help. According to the National Council on Aging, millions of low-income adults over age 60 use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the federal Food Stamp Program, to help afford healthy food. The average senior enrolled in SNAP receives more than $100 per month for food.
However, three out of five seniors who qualify for the program do not participate – meaning 5.2 million older adults miss out on benefits. Enrolling in SNAP can help an older adult afford a variety of healthy, whole foods. To find out if your loved one is eligible for SNAP or other benefits programs, visit www.benefitscheckup.org.