It’s no big secret that our nutritional needs and eating habits change as we get older. From toddlers to teenagers and into middle age and our golden years, our bodies just naturally begin to digest and process certain foods differently. We can even begin to develop certain appetites for different foods.
A healthier eating plan that is packed with essential vitamins and nutrients can help us to ward off disease, infection, and other common health issues such as constipation, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain cardiovascular disorders. The National Institute on Aging and the USDA recommend the following two options for a healthier meal plan.
The DASH Diet
The acronym “DASH” stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”. This dietary plan includes all of the major food groups while focusing on reducing blood pressure and including heart-healthier foods. The recommended daily servings include:
- Approximately 8 ounces of grains
- 2 to 3 cups of milk
- 6 ounces of lean meat, chicken, or fish
- 4 to 5 servings of dried beans, nuts, or seeds
- 2 teaspoons of oils
- 2 cups of vegetables
The MyPlate Diet
This nutritional program is a bit easier to follow and can be used as a general guideline for any older adult who is striving to create and maintain a healthy and balanced diet. It is based on how we arrange the food on our plate.
- Of the grains that you put on the plate, make at least half of them “whole grain” foods.
- Half of the plate should be comprised of only fruits and vegetables.
- Pay attention to sodium levels, particularly in frozen “ready-to-eat” foods, soups, and breads.
- Eat more slowly. Enjoy your food. And eat less in the process.
Other Tips and Advice
One of the most common tips that we should always follow, regardless of our age, is to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Taking this a step or two further, we should avoid beverages that are high in caffeine and focus on eating more fruits and vegetables that are high in water content, such as melons, grapes, and cucumbers. Here are some other noteworthy nutritional tips.
- Avoid saturated and trans fats, substituting healthier fats found in seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, fish, and even avocados.
- Eat more protein. Protein is the building block for muscle mass and also acts as a natural appetite suppressant. Stick to lean meats, fish, chicken, beans, and nuts.
- Eat more low-fat dairy products. As we age, our bone density begins to diminish, making us more susceptible to broken bones and issues of immobility. Including foods that are higher in calcium and vitamin D are a great way to keep our bones strong and healthy.
- Take a B12 supplement. As we get older, our body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases. Look for cereals that are fortified with higher levels of B12 as well.
We don’t have to make all of these changes instantly and overnight. In fact, most health professionals will recommend that we make these changes gradually. Replacing junk foods with healthier alternatives is always a good place to start, and then we can simply add one significant additional dietary change every other day or so.