You are what you eat!
This age-old mantra couldn’t be more true when it comes to healthy eating for older adults. As people age, the right diet can help increase energy levels, improve mental clarity, and boost immune systems. Proper nutrition also makes it easier to remain emotionally balanced and maintain a positive outlook on life.
However, a healthy diet for seniors is not about completely avoiding the foods they love. Instead, it should be about enjoying fresh, wholesome ingredients.
No matter your age or earlier eating habits, it’s never too late to improve your diet and lifestyle. Here are some tips and recipes to foster healthy eating for older adults!
Why Eating Healthy at Every Age is Important
A healthy diet is important at every age. Proper nutrition is essential for healthy brain and growth development in children. It also reduces the risk of obesity and prevents many chronic health issues, including high blood pressure and heart disease, osteoporosis, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer.
As people age, their nutritional needs and eating habits can change significantly. Tufts University nutritional expert Alice H. Lichtenstein explains how these changes can impact your health: “People tend to become less active and eat less as they age. This makes them vulnerable to getting too few nutrients.” Adopting a balanced diet with a variety of nutrient-dense foods is the key to maintaining optimal health later in life.
A healthy diet for seniors brings in a plethora of benefits, including weight maintenance, increased energy, and adequate nutrition. That last point is especially important because many seniors run the risk of malnutrition. According to the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Aging, 1 in 4 older Americans has poor nutrition. Malnutrition can contribute to a variety of health problems, such as weakened muscles and bones. While often associated with being underweight, poor nutrition can actually contribute to obesity as well. Maintaining a proper diet that delivers adequate nutrition helps older adults strengthen their immune system to ward off diseases and stay energized.
Vitamins and Nutrients Recommended by Healthcare Professionals for Seniors Over 70
Many seniors do not realize how much their nutritional needs change as they age. Older adults need higher levels of certain vitamins and nutrients than they did when they were younger. To complicate matters, some seniors have trouble getting the adequate amount of nutrition due to physical issues that impact chewing and nutrient absorption. It’s critical, then, that caregivers and family members help seniors make sure they get all the vitamins they need. Here are some nutrient-dense foods and vitamins that older adults should take in order to be as healthy as possible:
Calcium and Vitamin D
Both calcium and vitamin D are critical to maintaining healthy bones. While calcium strengthens bones, vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium more effectively. Since older adults are at risk for osteoporosis and brittle bones, both calcium and vitamin D are important for seniors. Older adults should prioritize calcium-rich foods and beverages and aim for three servings each day. Some examples include low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, and canned fish. Other vitamin D-rich options to include in a healthy diet for seniors are eggs and fatty fish, such as salmon. If your older loved ones prefer to take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, make sure they choose one that contains vitamin D.
A healthy diet for seniors should incorporate plenty of vitamin B12. Many seniors don’t receive enough vitamin B12, which is important for healthy nerve function. Good sources of vitamin B12 include lean meat, fish and seafood, and fortified cereals. There are also high-quality supplements available.
Potassium is an important mineral that helps reduce blood pressure and regulate muscle contractions. A diet high in potassium may protect against osteoporosis, kidney stones, and stroke, making it a very important part of any senior’s diet. Older adults can receive good sources of the mineral from fruits, vegetables, beans and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
Dietary fiber is important for people of all ages, but it’s especially beneficial for seniors. In addition to being good for the digestive system, dietary fiber may also help lower risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber and other healthy nutrients. You can also encourage your aging loved ones to switch out white breads for whole-grain and fortified cereals, both of which provide more dietary fiber.
Older adults should seek out foods that are low in saturated and trans fats to reduce the risk of heart disease. Not all fats are bad, though! Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, fish, and avocados, can help reduce inflammation and cardiovascular problems. Omega-3 fats are especially important for seniors because they’ve been shown to combat memory loss and dementia. Recommend to your aging loved one to eat dark, leafy greens daily, fish two or three times per week, or an ounce of nuts or seeds every other day so they can reap the benefits of omega-3 fats.
How to Make Healthy Eating Fun and Engaging
Healthy eating for seniors doesn’t need to be difficult! Here are a few ways caregivers can get their aging loved ones involved in preparing nutritious meals and promote healthier habits:
Remember to Practice Food Safety
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food.
- Cook food completely and cook meat to the proper temperature.
- Clean and sanitize any surfaces or utensils that have come into contact with raw meat to prevent cross-contamination.
Prepare Healthy Meals Together
- Cooking can be a fun opportunity to spend time with your older loved one.
- Offer them the chance to help with preparation work, such as collecting ingredients or chopping vegetables if they’re able to handle sharp utensils safely.
- If your loved one is able to, allow them to do the actual cooking while you provide assistance.
Make Mealtimes A Social Activity
- Healthy eating over 70 isn’t just about nutritious food; it’s also about enjoying that food with friends and family! Sit down with your aging loved one and spend time with them during meals. If they’re struggling with a low appetite, making meals more social may help encourage them to eat.
Easy (and Delicious) Snack Recipes
Here are a few snack ideas that your older loved ones will surely enjoy since they’re packed with nutrition, easy to make, and also tasty! Not only are these recipes healthy food for seniors, but they also encourage them to get involved in cooking since they’re simple, don’t involve heavy cookware, or take much time to make.
- Apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon
- Hummus with carrots, celery, or cucumber slices
- Whole grain popcorn (nix the extra salt and butter!)
- Apple slices or celery sticks with peanut butter
- Hardboiled eggs
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, such as blueberries
- Cottage cheese sprinkled with cinnamon and flax seeds
- Avocado on whole wheat toast
- Bowl of oatmeal with strawberries or blueberries
- Cheese and whole wheat crackers
- A smoothie made with fruit and/or vegetables
- Sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- A handful of healthy nuts, such as almonds
- Rice cakes with cinnamon
- Low-sugar granola bars
- Edamame with light salt
- Trail mix with dried fruit and nuts
- Pre-cut veggies with dip
These simple snack ideas make it easy to create a healthy diet for seniors that provides plenty of nutritional value. If you’re having trouble finding an elderly daily diet plan or need to learn more about unique nutritional requirements, you can always contact a professional to help you. Homethrive Care Guides are a great asset for your family when it comes to setting goals for your aging loved ones, whether it be finding ways to eat healthier or live a more active lifestyle. As you continue to reach and surpass your goals, they will work to set new ones with you!