Nutrition for Seniors: Tips for a Healthy Diet

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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Eating a well-balanced diet is an important part of staying healthy as you age, according to the National Institute on Aging. When it comes to nutrition for seniors, it’s important to understand that a healthy diet:

  • May help you stay energized and maintain the nutrients your body needs
  • May help you maintain a healthy weight
  • May lower your risk of developing chronic health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, and help you manage these health conditions should they develop.

Nutrition for seniors: what is a healthy diet for senior citizens?

A healthy diet is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As the National Council on Aging notes, details about nutrition for seniors you might change as people age. Because your metabolism slows, you may need fewer calories than earlier in your life. However, your body may need more of certain nutrients. This may be especially true if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Nutrition for seniors can be complex. Always talk with your doctor before changing your diet.

To ensure good nutrition for seniors, the National Institute on Aging suggests two simple senior nutrition guides:

The USDA Food Guide’s MyPlate guide lists five food groups. This plan offers tips for building a healthy, balanced diet, including:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less if you’re overweight.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers.

 

The DASH Diet. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or high blood pressure) diet includes all the key food groups, but is designed to help reduce blood pressure. It emphasizes heart-healthy foods. The NIH recommends these daily portions as general nutrition guidelines for seniors:

  • Grains: 5-10 ounces
  • Meat, beans, nuts, and other proteins: 5-7 ounces
  • Milk or other dairy: 3 cups (fat-free or low-fat)*
  • Vegetables: 2 to 3 1/2 cups
  • Fruit: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups
  • Oils: 5-8 teaspoons
  • Solid fats, sugary foods, and salt: the NIH says simply to keep this amount “small.”

*If you have trouble digesting milk, the United States Department of Agriculture suggests yogurt, hard cheeses, or other lactose-free foods.

Nutrition for seniors: tips for a healthy diet for the elderly

To help ensure good nutrition for seniors, the National Council on Aging recommends that older adults:

  1. Know what a healthy plate looks like (you may download the USDA’s MyPlate guide
  2. Look for important nutrients—lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products
  3. Read the nutrition fact labels on packaged foods to find the ones that are lower in fat, added sugar, and sodium (salt)
  4. Whenever possible, choose fresh foods, which are generally healthier than packaged foods
  5. Use recommended serving portions for your body, age and weight loss or maintenance goals (see the American Heart Association recommendations)
  6. Stay hydrated by drinking small amounts of water throughout the day
  7. Stretch your food budget by checking to see if you are eligible to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Nutrition for seniors: a healthy diet for the special concerns of seniors

It’s not uncommon for older adults to have special needs related to a healthy diet, according to the National Council on Aging.  As you age, you become more susceptible to chronic health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis. To help prevent or treat these conditions, your doctor may recommend that you eat foods that are rich in nutrients, but low in excess calories, processed sugars, sodium (salt), and saturated and trans fats.

If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition for seniors, we also have an article on Medicare coverage of nutrition therapy services.

Nutrition for seniors: stumbling blocks

Sometimes a problem can make it hard to meet your senior nutrition needs. Here are some examples that might interfere with nutrition for seniors:

  • The National Institutes of Health lists taste disorder as one of the conditions that might interfere with a healthy diet for seniors. Taste disorders might cause people to lose their appetite. It may be tempting to use sugar or salt to make food more appealing, but the NIH recommends flavoring food with herbs and spices instead. Of course, as with all diet recommendations, ask your doctor for guidance about nutrition for seniors – particularly you.
  • Certain medications can affect how food tastes, according to the National Institute on Aging. Ask your doctor to suggest other options if the medications you take affects your appetite. Some medications can also interact with certain foods and nutritional supplements. If you’re taking a medication, it’s wise to check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether you need to make any changes to your diet.
  • Your oral health can also affect your eating habits, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, ill-fitting dentures or missing teeth may make eating unpleasant, or require softened food. Talk with your dentist about your discomfort and the effect it may have on your eating a balanced, healthy meal.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet.

Sometimes good nutrition for seniors can be easier if someone else does the cooking. If you’re finding it difficult to prepare healthy meals for yourself, talk to a family member, friend, or your doctor.  There may be services available to help make sure you’re getting the nutritional food you need. For example, Meals on Wheels is available across the United States and in other countries. The service may be available where you live.

Now that you’ve read about nutrition for seniors, maybe you want to learn about Medicare plan options in your area that might cover nutrition therapy services. I can answer your questions.

  • You can arrange a phone call with me, or ask me to email you customized information about Medicare plan options. Just follow the links below.
  • Want to check out Medicare plan options with no obligation? Click the Find Plans or Compare Plans buttons on this page.

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