Eating healthy can be hard at any age. Naturally, our bodies and taste buds change over time, and coupled with the challenges of shopping, meal preparation, and a weakened sense of taste or appetite, the challenges can seem daunting. Keep reading for great tips and recipes on ways to manage senior nutrition every day.
- As part of a healthy diet, fruits and vegetables help prevent chronic diseases and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and more.
- Many seniors don’t eat the amount of nutrient-rich foods they need for healthy aging.
- These tips can help encourage you to include more whole foods in every meal.
What can make it harder for me to eat healthy as I age?
Managing our diet so that we get all the essential vitamins and minerals isn't always easy. This can be due to many factors such as:
- Living alone or having difficulty getting around and being mobile
- Poor immune health
- Health problems that make it harder for you to cook or feed yourself
- Problems chewing or swallowing food
- Loss of appetite
- Oral health (teeth sensitivities, dentures, etc.)
- Medications that interfere with appetite or cause nausea
- Limited budget for food expenses
- Sense of smell and taste
- Low energy and motivation
How do nutritional needs change over time?
With age, stomach acid gradually decreases, which affects how we digest food and absorb nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and magnesium. The problem is, our body still needs these nutrients—now more than ever. Older adults generally have lower calorie needs, but the nutrient requirements often remain the same or increase.
It’s also common for seniors to experience a decrease in appetite. This is due to lower levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. If you don't carefully monitor your nutritional intake, it could lead to malnutrition, which can result in weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and overall poor health.
If you’re worried you may have a low appetite, try to eat smaller meals more frequently rather than three large meals a day. Adding plenty of healthy snacks to your diet will help you get the nutrition you need without feeling too full at once. By making simple changes, you can help guard against harmful conditions.
Unique Needs for Ages 60+
You should get most of your calories from a wide-variety of nutrient-dense options from each food group, such as:
- Lean protein sources
- Whole grains
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat or nonfat dairy (plant-based milk, yogurt, kefir)
Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats
Keep these foods to a minimum. Foods like pies, pastries, chips, and cookies are generally high in saturated fat and may contain dangerous trans fats. Eat these foods very occasionally. When you do indulge, go for fresh fruit with yogurt, or desserts made with whole food options, like oats.
Eat plenty of fiber and stay hydrated with electrolytes
Water is essential for hydration and healthy digestion, but as you get older, you may not feel as thirsty as you once did, even when your body needs water. Aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces of fluids daily, and more during hotter months and while exercising. Hydration is best achieved by drinking water enhanced with a liquid electrolyte supplement to restore vital minerals.
Add lean protein sources to maintain muscle mass
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at using protein to build and maintain muscle mass. This deterioration in muscle mass is called sarcopenia, and it can lead to a loss of independence and movement. However, poor bone and muscle health don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging – it can be prevented and even reversed with regular exercise and a healthy diet that includes enough lean protein.
Protein delivers an excellent source of energy for the body, and also helps with weight management, since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat. So if you’re over 50, make sure to include plenty of lean protein in your diet. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are especially good choices.
- Wild-caught salmon
- High-quality protein powder
Use less salt
It's important to consume some salt, but too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. You should watch your intake, especially when eating cured meats (ham, bacon, lunch meats, etc.), snacks, salad dressings, and sauces (for example, soy sauce). Whenever possible, choose foods with a lower salt content and cook with herbs and spices rather than salt to enhance flavor.
Basic Guidelines & Tips for Senior Nutrition
The following tips and recipes can be helpful for:
- Meal prepping for an elderly parent or loved one
- Older adults looking for healthier meal ideas
- Those trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet
Add fruits and vegetables to foods you already eat
Fruits and vegetables are packed with potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A and C, all of which can help stabilize blood pressure and cholesterol. These foods are low in calories and fat, but rich in fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants that can help protect your heart and maintain digestive health.
One way to increase your nutrient intake is to add fruits and vegetables to foods you already eat regularly. Do you like to start your day with a bowl of oatmeal? Top it off with fresh strawberries or blueberries.
If you have a hard time meeting your nutrient needs, you can:
- Add a handful of spinach to your morning eggs
- Add diced veggies to pasta sauce or chili
- Toss some berries into your lunchtime salad
- Add fresh fruit to your cereal or yogurt
- Add diced veggies to your soup, or include a side salad
- Make lunchtime more colorful by adding chopped veggies to your sandwich
Remember, stick to the fruits and vegetables that you like. There's no sense in forcing yourself to eat something that you don't enjoy.
Make healthier "convenience" decisions
If you must rely on choosing convenience foods, try to pick the healthiest options. For example, if slicing or chopping is a challenge, you can opt for frozen, canned, or ready-to-eat varieties.
- frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables
- frozen unsweetened fruit
- low-sodium canned soup or stews
- steamer bags of veggies in either the produce or freezer sections
Prepackaged foods should always be checked. Avoid added sugar, saturated fat, and salt - and instead choose options that contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Try a smoothie for breakfast or a snack
Smoothies can be a convenient way to get all the nutrients your body needs, without having to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. They're also a great way to disguise the flavor of vegetables.
Use frozen fruits and vegetables. Use your favorite fruit as a base and add in a handful of spinach or kale for a green boost. This will help the smoothie stay cold and thick. Greens are also packed with nutrients and can make your smoothie taste better by balancing out the sweetness of the fruit.
Add a source of protein. Protein will help keep you feeling full for longer. Add your ReStructure® protein powder to make the smoothie more filling. Good sources also include Greek yogurt and nut butter.
If you're not sure how to get started, there are plenty of recipes you can find here or online. Try one next time you're looking for a healthy snack or meal replacement. Your body will thank you.
Experiment with new cooking methods
At any age, it’s easy to find ourselves stuck in a cooking rut. We make the same things over and over again because they're easy and we know them well. But that doesn't mean we can't experiment with new methods and recipes.
One way to add some excitement is to try a new cooking method. If you usually bake your chicken, try grilling it. Or if you always fry your veggies, try roasting them instead. There are endless possibilities when it comes to trying new, creative ways to spice up meals. And who knows, you might just find a new favorite way to cook.
Check your food labels
Our bodies are more vulnerable than we might think to the harmful effects of certain chemicals and ingredients in foods. High sodium and high sugar diets can cause your body to retain too much fluid, resulting in a greater risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Nutrition labels allow you to make an informed, controlled decision about what you’re eating. In the ingredient list, you can see which ingredients were used to make the product in descending order. For example, if the first ingredient listed is sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, you know the product is mainly sugar-based.
Some hidden keywords for “sugar” to look out for and avoid include: corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, and high-fructose corn syrup. Sodium usually appears as monosodium glutamate (MSG) on food labels. It may also appear as sodium citrate, sodium alginate, or sodium phosphate.
To be a smart shopper, remember:
- Limit salty snack foods, lunch meats, and salad dressings
- Try ancient grains, quinoa, faro, barley, etc., instead of processed
- Opt for low-sodium or reduced-sodium versions
- Flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of table salt
Easy Meal Ideas for Seniors to Make On Their Own
Many don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals. Luckily, there are plenty of easy (and healthy) meals that can be prepared without much hassle. The key is to start with recipes that have fewer ingredients and steps. As you get more comfortable in the kitchen, you can tackle more complex dishes.
Read on for a few meal ideas you, or a senior in your life, can use as inspiration in your daily routine. With minimal effort and ingredients, you can have a delicious meal – no cooking skills required.
- Smoothie: Blend almond milk or yogurt, frozen fruit (mango, berries, bananas), and greens (spinach, kale) for a quick and healthy smoothie.
- Omelet: Beat 2 eggs, add in your favorite veggies (spinach, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers), and cook in a lightly oiled pan.
- Avocado toast with egg: top a slice of whole wheat bread with mashed avocado and a cooked egg. Season with a pinch of natural sea salt, pepper, and chili flakes (if desired).
- Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts
- Homemade vegetable soup: Start with vegetarian or chicken stock, then add your favorite vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, and seasonings. You can also add potatoes for a nice thickener. The best thing is, a large batch can be frozen into smaller portions for a hearty meal at any time.
- Salad wrap: Fill a whole wheat tortilla with greens, shredded chicken or turkey, diced avocado, and your favorite vinaigrette (low sodium, of course).
- Veggie wrap with hummus or vegetable spread.
- Salmon filet or grilled chicken breast: Simply season the fish or chicken with some lemon juice, pepper, and your favorite herbs or spices, then cook over medium heat until cooked through (about 3-5 minutes per side for salmon, and 5-7 minutes per side for chicken). Serve alongside steamed veggies and brown rice or quinoa for a complete meal.
- Stir-fry: Stir-fry veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, mushrooms, and onions. You can add a source of lean protein like wild-caught salmon for an omega-3 boost. Serve over rice or noodles.
- Steam vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, beets, spinach, or kale. Choose different combinations for variety and rounded nutrition.
- A simple green salad with roasted chicken or salmon.
Note: One of the simplest things you can do is cook up a big batch of vegetables at the beginning of the week. Cut them into bite-sized pieces and store in containers in the fridge. Then, throughout the week, you can easily throw together a stir-fry, soup, or salad using whatever veggies you have on hand.
Eating well as we age doesn’t have to be hard or boring. There are many factors to consider when it comes to eating a well-balanced diet, and following the tips discussed in this article can help ensure you remain healthy and energized at every life stage.