A Healthy Diet Can Be Your Key To Health And Happiness

As we age, the food we eat becomes even more important. Good nutrition can help you:

  • Be stronger and live longer
  • Think more clearly
  • Feel better physically and emotionally

Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning what meals/snacks to eat each day.

How much should I eat?

The number of calories you need to consume each day to be healthy depends on your age, gender and the amount of physical activity you get. According to the National Institute on Aging:

A woman over 50 who is:

    • Not physically active needs about 1600 calories a day
    • Somewhat physically active needs about 1800 calories a day
    • Very active needs about 2000 calories a day

A man over 50 who is:

    • Not physically active needs about 2000 calories a day
    • Somewhat physically active needs about 2200-2400 calories a day
    • Very active needs about 2400-2800 calories a day

What should I eat?

The food pyramid is a great tool for people of all ages, but it’s especially useful for seniors who have developed long standing habits and tastes for specific foods. The pyramid may inspire you try new foods which will help make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Here are the components of the pyramid and the number of servings recommended for each.

Fruit – Juice is okay but whole fruits have more fiber and vitamins. Try to eat 1 ½ to 2 servings each day. When you can, choose color-rich fruits like berries or melons.

Veggies – Color is your guide here too. Dark, leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli as well as orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, squash, and yams have more antioxidants. Try for 2 to 2 ½ cups every day.

Calcium – Getting enough calcium as you age can help maintain bone health and help prevent osteoporosis. Older adults need 1200 mg of calcium a day. You’ll find calcium in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, or cheese and non-dairy foods such as tofu, broccoli, almonds, and kale.

Grains – Whole grains have more nutrients and fiber than processed white flour. Look for pasta, breads, and cereals that list “whole” in the ingredient list. Older adults need 6-7 ounces of grains each day.

Protein – Older adults need about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Just divide your bodyweight in half to know how many grams you need. If you weigh 140 pounds, try to eat 70 grams of protein a day. If you weigh 200 pounds, try to get 100 grams of protein each day.

In addition to the foods you eat, here are the vitamins and minerals your body needs as you age:

Water – As we age, our bodies don’t regulate fluids as well and we can lose our sense of thirst. To avoid dehydration you can post a reminder in your kitchen to sip water every hour and make sure you have water with meals. Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections, constipation, and mental confusion.

Vitamin B – Our stomachs produce less gastric acid as we age and it becomes more difficult to absorb vitamin B-12. Look for B-12 fortified foods or consider a vitamin supplement.

Vitamin D – We also get less Vitamin D from the sun and our diet as our bodies age. You can ask your doctor if a vitamin tablet or special diet is right for you to make sure you get enough Vitamin D which is essential for processing calcium.

Why should I eat?

Malnutrition is a critical health issue among older adults and it is caused by eating too little food or too few nutrients or digestive problems related to aging. Malnutrition can lead to fatigue, depression, a weakened immune system, anemia, weakness, organ damage, as well as skin concerns. Older adults may have less of an appetite just due to aging, or after suffering from loss or depression. Eating well can actually help the body and the mind weather life changes and to begin to enjoy life again.

Here are some ways to help make eating right a priority:

Eat with others. A social atmosphere helps you enjoy mealtime, which in turn makes you more likely to eat well. Even if you live alone you can make a meal date, choose outings that involve food, or take part in a senior meal program.

Mix it up. Eating the same foods over and over would bore anyone. You can make mealtime more interesting by browsing produce at a farmers market, reading a cooking magazine, or trying foods or spices you haven’t tried before. Ask your friends for ideas too.  

Ask for help. If you can’t shop or cook for yourself, you can consider home delivery from a local grocery store or sharing your home with those who can help.