Food is such an essential part of our lives. It’s rooted deeply in our traditions and culture, and it’s one of the integral parts of good health and longevity. That’s why it’s crucial to develop a healthy approach to food.
As we grow older, our metabolism changes and our stomachs are not as efficient as they used to be. Because of it, we are unable to digest some things, which leaves many people having to give up the foods they once adored.
This article should help you learn what healthy eating for older adults should look like and what foods to avoid at all costs.
Why Is Healthy Eating so Important at Older Age?
Healthy eating is essential at any age, but it becomes even more so later in life. Powering your body with necessary nutrients is crucial for proper physical and mental well-being.
A healthy balanced diet leaves you with enough energy to perform your daily tasks. It can also protect you from diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dental diseases, weight gain, and certain cancers. (1) On top of it, studies show that healthy aging and longevity are significantly affected by our diets. (2)
As we grow older, our bodies are not as capable of regenerating. We are more prone to outside and inside stimuli, which can affect our health. Seniors need fewer calories, and their appetites can change due to social changes and a deteriorating sense of smell and taste. Different medications can also affect diet, so we need to be careful with what we eat in our senior years.
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Healthy Eating Guide for Seniors
Healthy eating may seem like a complicated task, but it doesn’t have to be. Most people associate it with caloric restriction, dieting, and losing weight, but it’s far from it. A good diet is all about balance, eating whole foods, and eliminating any highly-processed ingredients.
Most nutritionists suggest eating a Mediterranean diet as numerous studies show its potential to prevent chronic diseases and increase longevity. (3,4,5) That means lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, and whole grains.
Keep in mind that everybody is different, and your dietary needs depend on many factors. Here are some general recommendations for older adults. It is always a good idea to consult with your doctor before making any significant changes and figure out whether that’s the best step for your health.
Focus on Nutrient-Packed Foods
You should enjoy a diet filled with nutrient-rich whole foods that include:
It’s also important to choose healthier, convenient food options. Read the labels and choose products with no added sugars, less salt and saturated fats, and more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When eating out, switch those fries for a side salad, and ask for a burger with whole-grain buns. Or maybe even try a veggie burger if you are feeling adventurous.
Fiber Is More Important Than You Think
People often underestimate how essential fiber is for digestion. To keep the gut happy and avoid constipation, men over 50 should eat at least 30 grams of fiber per day, while women should aim for 21 grams per day.
Including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, oats, or whole grains in every meal is an excellent way to make sure you are eating enough fiber. Men who eat at least 30 g of dietary fiber every day report having better bowel movements than the elderly eating less than the recommended amount. Dietary fiber is also essential for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
Even with the most diverse diet, some people may still struggle to get all nutrients. For instance, after the age of 50, our stomachs don’t produce as much gastric acid, which is essential for absorbing vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is needed for optimal nerve and blood health, which is why many older adults require B12 supplementation.
Another example is vitamin D. Our skin naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but it becomes less efficient with age. That is why your doctor may suggest taking vitamin D supplements, especially if you live in a colder climate and don’t get as much sunlight exposure. Recent studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is present in 40% of Europeans. (6) Vitamin deficiencies are also highly prevalent in the United States, which is why appropriate supplementation could be beneficial for chronic disease prevention and premature aging. (7)
Drink Enough Water
Some people lose a sense of thirst as they age. And is it necessary to say how vital water is for pretty much every aspect of your life? From normal organ functioning, avoiding urinary tract infections, constipation, headaches, and confusion, and maintaining a clear mind.
Many recommendations state that you should be drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day for optimal health. Keep in mind that you can also get water from tea, soup, juices, and even fruits and vegetables.
Foods Seniors Should Avoid
Now that we know what your recommended diet should look like, it is time to cover the don’ts of healthy eating for older adults.
Raw or Undercooked Meat, Fish, and Eggs
Uncooked meats, seafood, sushi, poultry, and eggs can contain bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Although this can happen at any age, seniors have a weaker immune system, so they are more prone to infections and sepsis. That is why all food for all people must be cooked well.
You should avoid foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade ice cream, eggnog, mayonnaise, or raw cookie dough, for the same reason.
Raw Milk or Soft Cheeses
Although dairy products such as fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and others should be included in the diet for seniors, there is no place for raw milk or soft cheeses like brie, camembert, and gorgonzola.
Due to low acidity and high moisture levels, these cheeses are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. However, cooked soft cheeses are perfectly fine. The same goes for raw milk. Go for the pasteurized version, and you’ll be okay.
Citrus fruits are known for their high vitamin C content, which is why you may be surprised to see grapefruit on this list. However, this fruit can intensify some of the effects of medication for high blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety, making them dangerous. That’s why it is crucial to read the labels and avoid grapefruit when you are taking these medications.
If you want to follow healthy eating for older adults, it is time to eliminate added sugar from your diet. That means no unnecessary candy and sodas. People often don’t realize how much sugar these sweet beverages have, so it’s time to cut them out. It’s okay to consume food with added sugar occasionally, just don’t do it every day.
Sugar raises blood sugar and insulin levels, and high consumption can lead to inflammation, weight gain, and many chronic conditions. It can even accelerate skin aging.
Processed ingredients and fast foods like bagels, donuts, and French fries may satisfy your hunger and cravings, but they shouldn’t be your first choice if you want to preserve your health. Food for old people should be nutrient-rich while providing fewer calories, and these options are the opposite of that. You’ll be eating too many calories, which can lead to weight gain and health problems that come with it.
Although perfectly fine for most people, sprouts grow in warm and damp spaces and are therefore prone to bacterial invasion. That’s why older people have to be careful about eating raw sprouts and should go for other vegetables instead.
Butter and Margarine
Butter can increase your cholesterol levels, and margarine is full of trans fats that are not food for your health. Instead, choose healthier cooking alternatives with unsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil.
Pepperoni, chorizo, ham, salami, hot dogs are all full of sodium, additives, and nitrates. Seniors who eat these processed meats every day are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancers. You can replace them with healthier options like tuna, chicken, turkey, and salmon.
Adults and seniors need carbohydrates, proteins, good fats, minerals, vitamins, and water to power them throughout the day and allow their bodies to function normally.
An example of a good breakfast for seniors could be low-fat greek yogurt, granola, a handful of mixed berries, one medium banana, and some almonds.
The Bottom Line
Older adults may face several health challenges, making it even more important to maintain a healthy diet. Hopefully, our guide can help all seniors learn about what a proper diet should look like and what foods to avoid to live a long and happy life.