A balanced diet is the key to health and vitality. But what makes up a “balanced” diet? The body’s needs change as it ages, and the nutritional needs of seniors’ bodies are different than when they were younger. Adapting to the body’s changing needs can be a challenge, especially for seniors, who have become used to particular dietary rituals that have worked for them their entire lives.
“Learning to adapt along with your body can be confusing and challenging for seniors,” said Beth Sholom, Owner of Right at Home of Central New Jersey, LLC. “But fulfilling the body’s needs with a nutritious diet can keep seniors healthy and independent for much longer. Right at Home is dedicated to educating seniors and their loved ones about healthy eating to keep seniors vital, strong and independent.”
Seniors’ Changing Needs
As people age, their bodies change. These changes affect the nutritional needs and wants of the body. The metabolism begins to slow beginning at age 40, so seniors require fewer calories than they did when they were younger. When coupled with the reduced activity levels of most seniors, reduced calorie needs can require some significant diet changes to maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Institute of Aging, women 50 and older should consume 1,600 to 2,000 calories per day, while men 50 and older should consume 2,000 to 2,800, depending on activity level. A reduced metabolism also results in lower levels of stomach acid, which means seniors are not able to digest vitamins and minerals as effectively. Additionally, the senses become less sensitive over time, so foods sometimes taste differently than they did earlier in life.
A Balanced Diet for Seniors
Due to these natural changes, the nutritional quality of what seniors consume matters even more than when they were younger; they must gain the nutrients they need through a smaller amount of food. Following simple guidelines can help make every calorie count:
- Choosing a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables rather than sticking to just a few favorites helps seniors gain the greatest nutritional benefits from their servings. Seniors should consume 1 1/2 to two servings of fruits and two to 3 1/2 servings of vegetables each day.
- Seniors should keep bones strong with 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day. Dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese are great sources of calcium. Non-dairy sources include almonds, broccoli, kale and tofu.
- Keep the brain sharp with omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of these healthy fats has been linked to a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease. For optimal health, seniors should consume three to four servings of fish, nuts and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids each week.
- Fiber-rich whole grains can improve digestion, reduce risk of coronary heart disease and help the body absorb important nutrients. Seniors should eat six to seven ounces of grains each day; a slice of bread is one ounce.
- Seniors need to consume one gram of protein each day for every two pounds they weigh (half their body weight) to maintain energy levels.
- Many seniors may not feel as thirsty as they felt earlier in life, but they still need just as much water. Encourage your loved one to drink several large glasses of water throughout the day and not to wait until he or she feels thirsty.
- Seniors can benefit from adding vitamins and other supplements to their diets and should talk to their doctors to learn about which may help them stay healthy.
Starting with healthy raw foods is the first step, but how foods are cooked impacts their nutritional benefits, too. Overcome common cooking challenges for seniors and get more from each meal by cooking smarter:
- Although it’s important for seniors to reduce their sodium intake to prevent high blood pressure and other health conditions, seniors also have a reduced sense of taste. Stave off the impulse to douse meals in salt by cooking with more herbs and spices to keep meals flavorful.
- When cooking vegetables, opt to steam or sauté them in olive oil. Unlike butter, olive oil will keep bad cholesterols low and good cholesterols high. Steaming and sautéing preserve the most health benefits in veggies; boiling will deplete them of nutrients.
- It can take a while to get used to major changes in eating habits for seniors who have eaten a particular diet their whole lives. Taking small steps gradually to make healthier choices can have a more lasting impact than overhauling their entire diets at once.
The support and expertise of a senior care service can help seniors to adapt healthier eating habits and maintain them over time. Right at Home offers wellness services that can make healthy eating easier, including meal planning.
Eating healthy can improve strength, energy and mental acuity. It also keeps the immune system strong, reducing seniors’ vulnerability to disease — as well as the risk for many health conditions that become common with age, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, anemia and much more. A balanced diet is also linked to better emotional stability and higher self-esteem. With a balanced diet, seniors can live fuller, longer and more independent lives.
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!