A healthy eating plan for older adults includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
In January 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly released the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These new guidelines outline recommendations to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease through nutritious eating and physical activity. The recommendations include some of the nutritional needs of older adults. For more information about food groups and nutrition values, visit www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.
To help you stay on track with your healthy eating plan, follow these tips:
>Do not skip meals. Skipping meals may cause your metabolism to slow down or lead you to eat more high-calorie, high-fat foods at your next meal or snack.
>Select high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, vegetables, and fruits. They may help keep you regular and lower your risk for chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
>Choose lean beef, turkey breast, fish, or chicken with the skin removed to lower the amount of fat and calories in your meals. As you age, your body needs fewer calories, especially if you are not very active.
>Have three servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat/fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese every day. Milk products are high in calcium and vitamin D and help keep your bones strong as you age. If you have trouble digesting or do not like milk products, try reduced-lactose milk products, or soy-based beverages, or tofu. You can also talk to your health care provider about taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
>Choose foods fortified with vitamin B12. Many adults over the age of 50 have difficulty absorbing adequate amounts of this vitamin. Therefore, they should get this nutrient through fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, or from a dietary supplement. Talk with your health care provider to ensure that you are consuming enough vitamin B12.
>Keep nutrient-rich snacks like dried apricots, whole-wheat crackers, peanut butter, low-fat cheese, and low-sodium soup on hand. Eat only small amounts of such foods as dried apricots and peanut butter because they are high in calories. Limit how often you have high-fat and high-sugar snacks like cake, candy, chips, and soda.
>Drink plenty of water or water-based fluids. You may notice that you feel less thirsty as you get older, but your body still needs water to stay healthy. Examples of water-based fluids are caffeine-free tea and coffee, soup, and low-fat or skim milk.
Planning and Preparing Your Meals
It is easier to eat well when you plan for your meals and make them enjoyable. Try these tips:
>Grocery shop with a friend. It is pleasant and can save money if you share items that you can only use half of, such as a bag of potatoes or head of cabbage.
>Cook ahead and freeze portions to have healthy and easy meals on hand for days when you do not feel like cooking.
>Keep frozen or canned vegetables, beans, and fruits on hand for quick and healthy additions to meals. Rinse canned vegetables and beans under cold running water to lower their salt content. If fruit is canned in 100-percent fruit juice, drain the juice to avoid added calories.
>Try new recipes or different herbs and spices to spark your interest in food. Set the table with a nice cloth and even a flower in a vase to make mealtime special.
>Eat regularly with someone whose company you enjoy.
>If you are unable to cook for yourself, find out about a community program in your area that serves meals or delivers "Meals on Wheels." Call the Eldercare Locator at 18006771116 for information on the program nearest you.
Check with your health care provider.
>If you have a problem eating well, such as difficulty chewing or not wanting to eat, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian. They can give you specific advice on following a healthy eating plan that addresses these barriers to healthful eating. Check with your dentist about caring for your teeth or dentures and your gums.
>The death of a loved one or moving from your home of many years may affect your desire to eat. Talk to your health care provider if events in your life are keeping you from eating well. Sometimes talking to a friend or family member can help. You can also check with your church or local Department of Social Services to see if there are support services available in your area.
>Many medications may alter the taste of food. If you have difficulty eating because many foods taste bad, speak with your health care provider about other options and medications.
>Ask your health care provider if you should take a daily multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. No pills have been proven to "stop aging" or "improve your memory." Taking a "one-a-day" type, however, may help you meet the nutrient needs of your body every day.
What is a healthy weight?
Maintaining a healthy weight may reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. It may also help you move better and stay mentally sharp. If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, you are at risk for certain health problems. Ask your health care provider about a healthy weight for you. If you start to gain or lose weight and do not know why, your health care provider can tell you if this change is healthy for you.
Health Risks of Being Underweight
>osteoporosis (bone loss)
>decreased muscle strength
>hypothermia (lowered body temperature)
If you are underweight, you may not be getting enough nutrients. Talk to your health care provider about the best way to gain weight and meet your nutritional needs.
Health Risks of Being Overweight or Obese
>type 2 diabetes
>high blood pressure
>high blood cholesterol
>coronary heart disease
>some types of cancer
If you already have one or more of these conditions, ask your health care provider if a modest weight loss (5 to 10 percent of your body weight) could help you feel better or need less medicine.
If you need to lose weight, make sure that you reduce your total calories, but do not reduce your nutrient intake. Do not try to lose weight unless your health care provider tells you to.