Healthy Eating for Older Adults
Healthy eating and staying hydrated are as important when we age as they are when we are younger. Keeping our muscles, bones and joints stronger through healthy eating and staying active can help us avoid the frailty that often happens with aging. It can also help prevent falls that can lead to major injury, long recovery times or disability.
As we age, good nutrition helps:
- Prevent major causes of illness, like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, bone loss (osteoporosis), obesity or malnutrition
- “Treat” illnesses like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity
- Meet individual nutrient and calorie needs
- Manage weight (gain or lose)
- To increase energy and endurance
- How we feel—physically, mentally and emotionally
Nutrition and health experts recommend that people of all ages eat a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, lean meats/poultry/fish, beans and low-fat dairy products. Calorie needs lessen as we age, so it is important to focus on foods and drinks that are nutrient-dense—we want to make every bite count! According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and have little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
The following are considered nutrient-dense foods (when prepared with no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium):
- Whole grains
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
- Lean meats and poultry
Seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products are good sources of protein. Protein can help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs naturally with age. Vitamin B12 is a concern for some older adults because the ability to absorb this nutrient can decrease with age. The solution? B12 is found in protein-rich foods.
Calcium and vitamin D help older adults keep strong bones. Fat-free and low-fat dairy products, including low-fat or nonfat yogurt of skim or 1% milk, are good sources of calcium. Non-dairy sources of calcium include calcium-fortified orange juice, soy milk, broccoli, okra, kale and collard or turnip greens.
Fruits, Veggies, Grains
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as minerals such as potassium, magnesium and fiber. These foods can help reduce older adults’ risk of heart disease and cancer. Some Grain-based breakfast cereals also have B12 added to them.
Older adults want to be sure to drink plenty of fluids. We may not always feel thirsty, so it is important to drink beverages like water, milk or 100% juice throughout the day to help keep from getting dehydrated.
Preventing Chronic Disease
Just as important as the foods we want choose more often are those that we want to choose less often. A healthy eating pattern has a little room for sweets, snacks, and other foods with added sugars, salt and saturated fat, despite their popularity. Many older adults experience chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, so limiting foods with high quantities of saturated fat, salt and added sugars can help treat those diseases.
- Choose and prepare foods without added salt
- Add flavor to foods with spices and herbs instead of salt
- Instead of sodas and sweets, try fruit and nuts for snacks and infused water for a beverage.
Our daily eating habits change as our bodies get older. Make small adjustments to help you enjoy the foods and beverages you choose each day such as sharing healthy meals with family and friends, which can increase enjoyment in eating. More and more older adults are looking for ways to “make every bite count.” One way is to learn more about cooking affordable, healthy and delicious dishes with our Cooking Matters and Kitchen Garden Cooking School virtual workshops and videos. Also, gardening is a great way to stay active. Come out to volunteer at one of our garden workdays.