Healthy eating is important, and that becomes even more so as we add on the years. While the general idea behind eating healthy stays the same, there are a few things that will change as we age. Knowing those factors and how to creating a healthy senior nutrition plan around them is easier than you might think.
The benefits of eating healthy go beyond just helping to keep your weight under control. A balanced diet can make you feel more energized and keep a more positive mental state. Let’s dive into those benefits a little deeper.
The Importance of Healthy Eating
Your first thought when it comes to eating healthy is probably about weight loss. That’s true. It will help you stay at a healthy weight. That’s reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke just by association.
And there’s more to it than just your weight.
Getting all the nutrients your body needs by following a healthy senior nutrition plan will boost your immunities and help your body fight off illnesses. That’s how healthy eating can keep you from ending up in the hospital.
Those same healthy foods will fuel your mind, too.
Eating fruits, leafy veggies, and things packed with omega 3 fatty acids (like fish and nuts) can help improve your focus. Those foods can help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, too.
Creating a Healthy Senior Nutrition Plan
One of the hardest things about healthy eating is knowing exactly what to eat. It’s easier to just grab something that’s quick, like stopping at a fast food place or grabbing something that’s ready-made. With a little knowledge and some prep work, you can get your diet on track.
The main thing to keep in mind to get started is to cut out processed foods. You want natural foods that haven’t had things added to them, generally speaking.
Fruits and Vegetables – Taste the Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables provide a ton of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay in good health. They’re low in calories and saturated fats, are a good source of fiber, and they can help prevent some diseases.
You’ve also got a lot of options to choose from, so everyone is sure to find at least a few things they’ll enjoy eating.
To make sure you’re getting all of the benefits fruits and veggies have to offer, a good rule of thumb is to eat a wide array of colors. Of course, you’ll want those leafy greens like spinach and kale, but adding in things like carrots, peppers, and tomatoes will help you get a better variety of those vitamins and minerals.
The same goes for fruits. Bananas and apples are great, but try mixing it up with different berries, pineapples, or plums.
Picking the Protein
While hot dogs, bacon, and sausage might be delicious, they’re not a good source of healthy protein. Those processed meats come along with a high amount of saturated fats and sodium.
High-quality proteins can help your mind and body perform better. Go with a variety of proteins like fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. You don’t want to eat only red meat as your main source of protein.
Carefully Choose Your Carbs
There are simple carbs, and there are complex carbs. You want to eat more complex carbs.
Simple carbs are things like white bread and white rice. Those types of carbs tend to have more sugar. When you eat them, it causes your blood sugar to spike, and then you’ll get a crash afterward. That crash can leave you feeling hungry again.
By contrast, complex carbs will satisfy your hunger and give you more fiber and other nutrients your body needs. Go for whole grains, brown rice, and bran cereal, for example.
Tips for Making Your Nutrition Plan
With those basics in mind, it’s now time to start putting your meal plan together. Use these tips from the National Council on Aging to make sure you’re on the right track:
- Know what a healthy plate looks like – Instead of the food pyramid, the USDA now has an easier way for you to see if you’re getting the five food groups into your diet correctly. It’s called MyPlate. It’s a visualization of how your plate should look. There are plenty of tools to use to help you get your nutrition organized.
- Find the important nutrients – If you’re eating the rainbow, you should be good to go. You need a variety of fruits and veggies, lean proteins, healthy carbs, and low-fat dairy.
- Read the nutrition labels – If you’re not sure an item at the grocery store is good for you, check out those nutrition facts. You want things that are low in fats, added sugars, and sodium.
- Get the right serving size – Even if you’re eating healthy foods, having portion sizes that are too large will still have bad results. Staying within the recommended serving sizes is just as important as eating the right foods.
- Stay hydrated – You have to get enough fluids throughout the day. Keep some water nearby at all times so you can take sips periodically. Try to stick to water, coffee, and tea. Stay away from drinks that have a lot of sugar or salt.
- Stretch your food budget – If you’re having trouble paying for healthier foods, you might qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Millions of older adults use the program to supplement their food budget.
Age-Related Dietary Issues
For older adults, there are some other things to take into account when it comes to healthy eating. As your body changes, you may need to make some adjustments.
For one thing, your metabolism will be slowing down. With your body not converting food to energy as quickly as it once did, you’re at an increased risk of putting on some extra weight. That makes eating right and maintaining an active lifestyle even more important.
Digestion issues are common, as well. Your body can start having issues processing some vitamins and minerals that are key to your circulation and cognitive health. For that, you’ll need a higher fiber intake and a talk with your doctor possibly taking some supplements.
Weakened senses and medications can also have a negative effect. It often gets harder for older adults to taste things like salt. That sense can be further dulled by some medications. Instead of over-salting your food, you’ll need to increase those flavors by adding other herbs and spices or healthy oils.
Some medications can also lead to a loss of appetite altogether. You should discuss that side effect with your doctor to explore your options.
It’s About More Than Just Eating
The benefits of healthy eating go far beyond controlling your weight. Having a healthier body means having a healthier mind, too.
Don’t make your eating habits just something you do on your own, either. Food can be a social experience. Grocery shopping or cooking with friends is a great way to have a good time and share in a healthy lifestyle.