By Kathy Birkett, RDN, LD
Senior Care Corner
As we get older there are many things that we think are not a priority such as cleaning the top shelf or wearing perfume when we go out.
Eating right should not be one of those things!
Eating well as we get older will help us maintain our functional abilities so that we can stay in the home of our dreams for as long as possible.
Nutrition Changes with Age
What does change as we get older about eating right is the need for the same number of calories as we once ate. Decreased activity requires fewer calories to maintain our normal weight.
The problem with a lower calorie intake is the fact that we still need the same amount of nutrition – vitamins, minerals, protein and fluids.
How do we get enough nutrition at the same time we are eating less? That takes attention and some planning because it becomes very important to start making every bite count as we age.
Every choice we make when we prepare meals or eat snacks should be as nutritious, or nutrient dense, as we can make it.
It isn’t good enough anymore to have a doughnut for breakfast, a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch and a bowl of ice cream for dinner.
Aging bodies need protein to have strong muscles to prevent falling, calcium to keep our bones strong to prevent fractures, B12 for energy to prevent feeling fatigued all the time, antioxidants to keep our brains stimulated and fluids to prevent dehydration and urinary tract infections.
These are all common complaints in seniors and can be avoided with good nutrition.
One way to focus our attention on what we are eating to be sure we get enough essential nutrition is to use the new MyPlate for Older Adults as a guide for the most nutritious food choices.
This graphic reminds older adults of the importance of including a wide variety of foods at each meal.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Choose the most colorful foods in this category to get the maximum variety of vitamins and minerals at each meal. Try watermelon, eggplant, sweet potatoes, carrots, greens and tomatoes. These foods can be fresh (preferably) but also canned or frozen. Fruits and vegetables should fill half your plate.
Choose whole grains for their fiber and nutrients. Include fortified cereals to get extra nutrients that are lost in processing. Grains should cover a quarter of your plate.
Include a protein food at each meal. It is important for strong muscles and the nutrients they provide. A variety includes meat, poultry, fish, and plant sources such as nuts, beans, and soy. Protein should cover a quarter of your plate.
Low fat dairy products – milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream provide nutrients including calcium, potassium, and protein. Include at least two servings a day. If you have trouble digesting lactose, substitute lactose free dairy products, soy milk or calcium fortified juice.
Drink adequate fluids. This can be from a variety of beverages and even some foods. Water is preferable especially between meals to quench thirst. Include fluids throughout the day even if you don’t feel thirsty.
It is important to include some healthy oils in your daily meals. Fats and oils such as vegetable, canola and olive oil, tub margarine, and butter can be used but avoid trans-fat.
Herbs and Spices:
Add flavor to your food with seasonings instead of salt. There are a variety of fresh and dried seasonings that will spice up your meals. Use caution with seasoning blends as some contain salt, look for salt-free versions.
The MyPlate for Older Adults also includes a pictorial reminder to stay physically active as we age!
Begin making small changes to your daily meals including more and more variety.
Remember to have a complete meal each time to be sure that you are getting all the nutrition your body needs to stay strong for aging in place successfully!
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Kathy is Senior Care Corner’s expert on the lives and care of senior adults, expertise she has gained through over 30 years working with seniors, families and other caregivers in both her professional and personal lives. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist with over 30 years of experience helping clients and family members achieve health through nutrition.
Kathy has worked with seniors in their homes as well as in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation and hospital settings. Kathy has a passion for advocacy, education and improving the life of seniors and has shared this passion to her connections in Senior Care Corner and a variety of community-based and online support groups. Kathy is a champion for the caregiver and works to help them be able to meet the needs of those for whom they care while also meeting their own needs.