Regardless of age, the need for nutrition never goes away
- It’s too much trouble to cook for myself. I’m just not hungry.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables go bad before I can eat them.
- My favorite dishes just don’t taste the same.
Do any of these comments sound familiar? Maybe you have older loved ones who aren’t eating like you wish they would; or perhaps, as you enter your golden years, you have uttered similar statements.
As age goes up, energy levels, mobility and caloric intake tend to go down. However, the need for good nutrition never goes away. Consuming healthy antioxidant-rich foods is necessary for everybody, whether they are 10, 35 or 80 years old. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests that people 70 years or older should consume 1,200-1,600 calories daily from whole grain foods, a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and poultry, low-fat dairy products, and eight glasses of fluid.
Are meeting those suggestions, or not even coming close? If you or someone you love is stuck in an unhealthy food rut, there’s no time like now to change those eating habits and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
“A diet filled with colorful, whole (unprocessed) foods is the key to looking and feeling younger, no matter what your age, says food and nutrition expert Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, LDN. “Aim to eat more of these foods to help stave off heart disease, increase energy and keep your brain in tip-top shape.”
Healthy Proteins a Must
“It’s important to eat wisely as you age,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN and author of Plant-Powered for Life. “Your energy needs decline, but your nutritional needs actually go up; which means you shouldn’t waste your food choices on low-nutrient foods, such as baked goods, chips and sweet beverages.” Rather, Palmer suggests powering up on healthy proteins that include fish, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
“As we get older, we tend to lose our taste for protein, and yet it is vital for preventing muscle loss,” adds Marci Anderson MS, RDN & owner of a group nutrition practice in Cambridge, Mass., and adjunct professor for Plymouth State University’s Eating Disorder Institute.
Two of Anderson’s favorite proteins are eggs and nut butters. They are inexpensive and more shelf-stable than many other proteins. Additionally, they require little preparation and are easy to chew—both important factors for older adults. Kleiner adds, “Proteins help slow the absorption of carbohydrates and maintain blood sugar levels.”
Certain Fats Help Fight Disease
Lisa R. Young, New York City nutritionist and author of The Portion Teller, stresses the importance of eating foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds. “There is considerable research that omega 3 fatty acids help with inflammation, memory, and mood, all of which are concerns for the aging body,” says Young, PhD, RD., CDN and adjunct professor in the department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University.
These foods are easy to integrate into your daily diet. “Have grilled fish several times a week for dinner; sprinkle flax seeds on your yogurt; and snack on a handful of walnuts when you are hungry.”
Eat Antioxidants to Help Fight Illness
Other foods needed by aging bodies are those rich in antioxidants—nutrients in foods that can help prevent and slow oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The three major antioxidant vitamins are vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin C and vitamin E. Also included are selenium and phytochemicals, which are neither vitamins nor minerals.
Maria Faires, RD, certified personal trainer and advanced health & fitness specialist, adds, “Antioxidant nutrients slow down the aging process, help prevent and fight cancer and heart conditions, and support health and well-being.” Cells continuously battle damage caused by free radicals, which are harmful, naturally made molecules that are linked to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other age-related illnesses. “Antioxidants work by binding to the free radicals, rendering them harmless,” Faires says.
Get Your Vitamins from The Garden – Not a Bottle
Taking a quick pill containing these nutrients in supplement form might seem easy – but it is not effective. “It’s beneficial to eat antioxidants in food,” says Mary Hartley, RD and master of public health. “However, taking individual antioxidant supplements doesn’t work and is sometimes harmful.”
Eat your antioxidants instead. You’ll find antioxidants in colorful fruits and vegetables: cranberries, kiwi, mango, papaya, oranges, nectarines, tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, beans, artichokes, snow peas, sweet potatoes, grapes, pomegranate, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, to name a few.
Natalie Monson, RD, CD, suggests filling half of your plate with produce for every meal. “Preparing fruits and vegetables in a variety of ways using different cooking methods not only makes them taste better, but also makes it a fun experience,” Monson says.
Remember: Rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables are good for you. But in moderation, so are flavonol-rich dark chocolate and red wine. Kleiner says that one square of dark chocolate helps reduce the risk of disease; while red wine (one glass a day for women and two glasses a day for men) helps increase HDL “good” cholesterol. So eat, drink and be healthy—as long as those choices are wise! Also, Hartley says, “Stop eating before the point of fullness. Instead, try to eat only when hungry.” Save room for that chocolate and wine!
Quick Nutrition Tips That Everyone Should Remember
For seniors and their entire families, there are some universal tips that will help you get the most out of nutritious eating. Here is some advice that all of our experts can agree on:
- Eat breakfast daily to get your metabolism moving
- Choose whole grains; wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice – instead of refined grains
- Drink plenty of water
- Drink plant-based beverages such as coffee and tea
- Use herbs and spices, both for their nutritional value and added flavor
- Do not go longer than five hours without refueling
- Do you own cooking as much as possible
- Stay present while eating so you can enjoy your food
- Minimize consuming processed foods
- Exercise regularly
Remember that as people age, the taste and smell of foods may change. Sometimes, medicines will alter the taste of foods or make a person less hungry. Talk to your doctor if you no longer enjoy the taste of your favorite foods, or if you or a parent you are caring for has experienced a loss of appetite. Healthy eating has no expiration date – choose the best fuel to power all stages of your life.