It seems like every few weeks there are news cycles about new studies on nutrition, and the information always contradicts the last one. Wine is good for you, until it isn’t. A cup of coffee every morning is perfectly fine to get your day going, until you need to swear off of it forever. Or there’s a story about a local senior celebrating their 100th birthday, and their advice for a long life is a bowl of ice cream every night, which of course every expert will tell you is a bad idea.
It can be difficult to keep track of all the advice and expertise, as well-intentioned as it is. But there are a few central tenets of nutrition for older adults that aren’t fads or new breakthroughs, but information that stands the test of time.
If you or a loved one is ready to embark on a healthier diet, what follows is information to use as a starting point. It’s not just about what you eat that matters, but the why and the how as well, which we address. We also recommend meeting with your physician or a nutritionist to get tips tailored to your needs, and of course a regimen of physical activity.
1: Eat Less, But Eat Well
Part of the aging process is metabolism slowing down and a reduction in muscle mass, and as a result, we need fewer calories than before, leading to less of an appetite.
So that big ribeye steak you’ve always loved for dinner? As you age, you might be going for a small filet instead (or preferably, a leaner meat altogether).
However, eating less can reduce the amount of important nutrients and minerals we need to stay healthy. Eating a healthy diet, even in reduced amounts, can help provide the health benefits we need.
2: Don’t Let Your Thirst Dry Up
Did you know that as we age, our sense of thirst can diminish? As a result, many older adults are dehydrated as they don’t take in enough water.
Water is also an important nutrient, giving an added bonus to staying hydrated. It can be helpful to have a reusable metal water bottle you keep with you – not only does it reduce plastic waste, but a good metal water bottle can keep water cold for hours. There are lots of options to choose from, you don’t even need to camp out overnight at Target for the latest trendy option.
3: Eat Your Fruit & Veggies
You knew this was coming: fruit and vegetables are vital parts of healthy eating. They may not be everyone’s favorite, but they are a building block of good health.
It’s recommended that older adults get a minimum of 3 – 4 portions of fruit and vegetables a day; one rule of thumb is to try to eat all the colors of the rainbow. The USDA’s MyPlate initiative offers great information and advice for healthy eating for older adults.
As they note about fruit, “Fruits may be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated. Fruits can be eaten whole, cut up, pureed (mashed), or cooked.”
And on the topic of vegetables, they recommend that “Vegetables may be raw or cooked and can be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. They can be whole, cut-up, or mashed.”
4: A Whole Lot Of Good In Whole Grains
If you’re perusing the MyPlate site, you’ll notice they have five food groups: fruit, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy.
Along with the USDA, most experts recommend that for grains, you switch to whole grains if you haven’t already. That means brown rice and whole wheat pasta and bread.
Switching to whole grains helps older adults get the fiber they need in their diet for gastrointestinal health, and serves as an energy booster as they contain important vitamins and nutrients. They also reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and can help prevent diabetes and other diseases.
5: Eating For Brain Health? It’s Not A Fishy Claim
Healthy eating isn’t just good for your body, the right kind of diet can also help with your brain health. Studies show the Mediterranean Diet can have a positive effect on the cognitive health of older adults – according to one report, “higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline, and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease in nine out of 12 studies”.
Adopting the Mediterranean diet means making these items staples of your meal planning:
- Fish & seafood (at least twice a week)
- Fruits & vegetables
- Nuts, seeds & legumes
- Whole grains, including pasta and bread
- Servings of healthy fat (extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, etc.)
- Herbs & spices
#6: Make A Plan
Like anything else where you’re striving for success, making a plan can help accomplish your goals.
When it come to health and nutrition, meal planning can be an easy way to incorporate healthy habits. Sitting down weekly and mapping out your meals will allow you to buy healthy options from the grocery store, whereas leaving meals to the last minute forces you to just have what’s on hand, or resort to old favorites.
7: Don’t Go Cold Turkey – Unless You Have To
It can be difficult to change eating habits later in life – if you or a loved one has been eating a certain way for decades, change isn’t likely to come overnight. So barring an acute health concern that requires immediate changes, try to phase changes in gradually.
Just as you can’t wake up one day and run a marathon, trying to do it all at once will just lead to frustration. Maybe start by switching to whole wheat pasta while leaving the rest of the meal as you normally would. Or substitute chicken for steak while enjoying the rest of your usual diet.
Build each small change into a habit and then move on to another one. Before long it will be second nature.
Healthy Eating At Prestige
Not only can a healthy diet help ward off age-related diseases, but giving your body the proper nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight can help you stay active and independent.
At Prestige Senior Living, healthy aging is at the heart of how we approach celebrating life with our residents, and dining plays a big role. Residents enjoy healthy, delicious meals to help fuel them in their daily activities.
Our dining program is tailored to the needs of older adults, from portion sizes to the necessary nutrients to low sodium.
If you’d like to learn more, contact a community near you and talk to our team!