Tips for Picking Healthy Food as You Get Older
Here are 6 tips to help you find the best foods for your body and your budget.
1. Know what a healthy plate looks like
You might remember the food pyramid, but the USDA recently unveiled a simpler way to help people see what they should eat each day. It’s called MyPlate. The simple graphic shows exactly how the five food groups should stack up on your plate. These are the building blocks for a healthy diet.
2. Look for important nutrients
Make sure you eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Your plate should look like a rainbow—bright, colored foods are always the best choice! A healthy meal should include:
Lean protein (lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans)
Fruits and vegetables (think orange, red, green, and purple)
Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
Low-fat dairy (milk and its alternatives)
Remember to choose foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium or salt. Also, look for Vitamin D, an important mineral as we age.
3. Read the Nutrition Facts label
The healthiest foods are whole foods. These are often found on the perimeter of the grocery store in the produce, meat, and dairy sections. When you do eat packaged foods, be a smart shopper! Read the labels to find items that are lower in fat, added sugars, and sodium.
4. Use recommended servings
To maintain your weight, you must eat the right amount of food for your age and body. The American Heart Association provides recommended daily servings for adults aged 60+.
5. Stay hydrated
Water is an important nutrient too! Don’t let yourself get dehydrated—drink small amounts of fluids consistently throughout the day. Tea, coffee, and water are your best choices. Keep fluids with sugar and salt at a minimum, unless your doctor has suggested otherwise.
6. Stretch your food budget
Want to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck? The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help you afford healthy food when you need it. Over 4 million older Americans use SNAP to buy food, and the average senior receives $113 each month. Visit BenefitsCheckUp.org/getSNAP to see if the program can help you.
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What is nutrition and why is it important for older adults?
Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients that it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function and grow. They include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Good nutrition is important, no matter what your age. It gives you energy and can help you control your weight. It may also help prevent some diseases, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
But as you age, your body and life change, and so does what you need to stay healthy. For example, you may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. Some older adults need more protein.
What can make it harder for me to eat healthy as I age?
Some changes that can happen as you age can make it harder for you to eat healthy. These include changes in your:
Home life, such as suddenly living alone or having trouble getting around
Health, which can make it harder for you to cook or feed yourself
Medicines, which can change how food tastes, make your mouth dry, or take away your appetite
Income, which means that you may not have as much money for food
Sense of smell and taste
Problems chewing or swallowing your food
How can I eat healthy as I age?
To stay healthy as you age, you should:
Eat foods that give you lots of nutrients without a lot of extra calories, such as
Fruits and vegetables (choose different types with bright colors)
Whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice
Fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk that has added vitamin D and calcium
Seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs
Beans, nuts, and seeds
Avoid empty calories. These are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol.
Pick foods that are low in cholesterol and fat. You especially want to try to avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are usually fats that come from animals. Trans fats are processed fats in stick margarine and vegetable shortening. You may find them in some store-bought baked goods and fried foods at some fast-food restaurants.
Drink enough liquids, so you don't get dehydrated. Some people lose their sense of thirst as they age. And certain medicines might make it even more important to have plenty of fluids.
Be physically active. If you have started losing your appetite, exercising may help you to feel hungrier.
What can I do if I am having trouble eating healthy?
Sometimes health issues or other problems can make it hard to eat healthy. Here are some tips that might help:
If you are tired of eating alone, try organizing some potluck meals or cooking with a friend. You can also look into having some meals at a nearby senior center, community center, or religious facility.
If you are having trouble chewing, see your dentist to check for problems
If you are having trouble swallowing, try drinking plenty of liquids with your meal. If that does not help, check with your health care provider. A health condition or medicine could be causing the problem.
If you're having trouble smelling and tasting your food, try adding color and texture to make your food more interesting
If you aren't eating enough, add some healthy snacks throughout the day to help you get more nutrients and calories
If an illness is making it harder for you to cook or feed yourself, check with your health care provider. He or she may recommend an occupational therapist, who can help you find ways to make it easier.
NIH: National Institute on Aging