By Sarah Allen-Sutter and Maria Solorio Lopez
We’ve heard it time and time again: to stay healthy, eat a balanced diet and exercise. Well, this sentiment becomes even more important as we get older, and older adults have certain specific dietary needs.
Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet. The food and drinks we consume provide the body with energy and nutrients needed to stay healthy. Having good nutrition is important across all age groups, but especially among seniors. As we age our metabolic rate slows, appetite decreases, and the risk for chronic diseases (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease) increases. These issues can be managed and prevented with a healthy and planned diet.
Important foods to include in your diet
A varied diet is important to stay healthy, including food from each food group. Below are examples of foods that are important to incorporate in your diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain important nutrients and fiber. Choose fruits and vegetables with deeply colored flesh.
Examples: blueberries, broccoli, carrots, cranberries, kale, bell peppers, pumpkin, romaine lettuce, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes
Healthy oils provide important fatty acids and vitamins.
Examples: Olive, canola, corn, peanut, sesame, soybean, sunflower, walnut, avocado
Whole grain and fortified foods are good sources of fiber and B vitamins.
Examples: brown rice, flaxseed, oats, wheat berries, whole wheat bread, popcorn, whole grain tortillas/chips
Older adults should maintain a high-protein diet, because as we get older, we start to lose muscle mass, and protein helps to build and maintain muscles.
Examples: salmon and white fish, shellfish, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, lean meat/poultry, low and non-fat dairy products, poultry without skin
Herbs & Spices
It is important to reduce salt intake as we get older to prevent blood pressure from rising. Using a variety of herbs and spices when cooking will enhance the flavor of food without using salt.
Examples: allspice, basil, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cilantro, clove, cumin, parsley, rosemary, thyme
As we get older, some people lose their sense of thirst, but our bodies still need water to properly function! Drink water frequently. Other beverages that can help you stay hydrated include low- or fat-free milk, including lactose-free and fortified soy options, and 100% juice. Avoid beverages with lots of added sugar or salt.
Staying active is essential for healthy aging and has a variety of positive benefits. It helps prevent many health problems that develop as we age such as reducing symptoms of arthritis, anxiety, and depression. Regular exercise also helps keep diabetes and high blood pressure under control, while supporting brain function, balance, and bone strength. By staying active you are strengthening your muscles, so you can continue doing your day-to-day activities and prevent dangerous falls.
How much activity is needed to stay healthy?
Aim for 150 – 200 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or gardening. Alternatively, you can shoot for 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity, such as hiking, jogging, or running. Engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week and activities to improve balance about three days a week.