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Best Foods to Eat for a Healthy Senior Life
It's true to some degree that "you are what you eat." As you age, it's even more important that you take care of meal planning to get the most from your meals and maintain optimal health. Even if you never really considered what you put on your plate, now is a great time to start.
Here are the facts about how food needs to change as you age, the challenges that come from getting older, and why you should prioritize nutrition and food experiences as you plan.
Why eating healthy matters
It's important to know how food affects you, even as you start making better choices. Nutrition makes a difference in your quality of life, from how much you eat to the groceries you buy.
These are some of the benefits of healthy food and why it pays to put effort into your diet:
- A healthy diet is linked to better immunity, healthier weight, and reduction of some types of diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
- When paired with regular exercise, eating well helps you maintain independence and mobility in older age.
- Eating better can help you feel better, including an increase in energy.
- A reduction of Alzheimer's disease risk has been found in adults who eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and nuts.
That's not all. When you focus not just on what you eat but who you eat with, you can boost your social activity and form better bonds with those you love. Eating the same food as others also increases trust and is a unifying experience. Some of the most important social events center on food (weddings, birthdays, anniversaries). Our society values dining as a networking opportunity, too.
How eating changes when you age
Even if you consider yourself a foodie, getting older may present some challenges to sitting down and enjoying a good meal. Here are some of the more common obstacles to good nutrition, along with suggestions for eating well.
1. Fixed or low income
If you have less to live on in retirement than you planned for, you may not be able to afford a big grocery bill. Fortunately, some of the healthiest foods are also reasonably priced. You may want to create a shopping list using the sales ad at the store near you, marking items as "must-buys" when they're both nutritious and delicious.
Also, you can always jazz up cheaper cuts of meat with spices and healthy mix-ins. Plus, consider cooking for multiple meals, then freezing the leftovers for later, which is always cheaper than ordering out.
2. Oral health problems
Whether you are dealing with mouth pain or dental issues, it can be difficult to feel satiated when you struggle with chewing or swallowing. Try to address any medical concerns as soon as you can; a change in your diet may help.
Consider soft foods like steamed veggies, rice, and yogurt, or try a healthy fruit smoothie with nut butter. Soups and stews are always a good choice, too. They can be nutritious when prepared from scratch and also serve as a source of hydration.
3. Lack of taste
It's common for older adults to have less-sensitive taste buds, which means your favorite meals may not have the allure they once did. Instead of pouring on the salt, which can add to your blood pressure concerns, think of spices or seasoning you can use that are lower in sodium. Crunch and texture can help overcome bland flavors, as well. Add nuts, seeds, or lightly sauteed fresh veggies to give your mouth something to look forward to.
4. No transportation
For those who no longer drive, it may be difficult to access healthy foods. Fortunately, today's high-tech world offers many opportunities to order food over the phone or online and get your groceries delivered right to your door.
If you don't live near services like this, consider asking a neighbor, friend, or relative. Also, programs like Meals on Wheels and other community offerings may be able to get you meals made fresh and delivered to your house daily at a low or no cost to you.
5. New medications
Adjusting to a new prescription may affect you in ways you aren't prepared for, including appetite and digestion. You should always read the documentation that comes with any new medication and ask your pharmacist any questions. Also, pay close attention to any concerning issues in the first week or two.
Some issues may resolve on their own, but if it's difficult to eat or your stomach doesn't agree with your typical diet, call your medical professional. They may be able to give you an alternative medication or help you time your doses during the day so you can enjoy your meals.
Six tips for eating better
There is a lot of information about how to eat for optimal health, but fad diets and hot trends don't have to be your guide. The most time-tested information about eating well is often the most reliable.
Consider these tips:
- Get 2-3 servings a day of fruits and 2-3 servings a day of veggies. Aim for variety because it will make eating more enjoyable and give you a good mix of antioxidants and vitamins. Colorful foods like beets, dark leafy veggies, oranges, carrots, and berries are all good picks that can make up a balanced diet for seniors.
- Pick the right type of fats, such as omega-3s. Nuts, olives, and avocados fit the bill and are considered the best brain food for seniors.
- Fight osteoporosis with healthy calcium picks like low-fat cheese, yogurt, and milk. If you can't tolerate lactose, consider leafy green veggies and those in the broccoli family.
- Watch your proteins. It's important to fuel your brain and muscles, but avoid salty or processed meats. Mix up your meals with meat and non-meat alternatives, like beans, nuts, eggs, and seeds. Keep an eye on the fish you eat to avoid consuming too much mercury, which is found in some large predatory fish, like shark, tilefish, swordfish, and mackerel. Eat these in moderation, or choose canned light tuna and other sources instead.
- Boost fiber to keep digestion regular and reduce the risk of some diseases. Women should try to get 21 grams of fiber, and men should aim for 30 grams, according to Healthline. Foods rich in fiber may be the best food for seniors who want to keep a healthy weight and avoid constipation.
- Consider portion sizes. You may feel full sooner than you're used to, so don't force yourself to eat too much at one time. Instead, consider the portion size for each item on our plate, and put some away for later if you think you could come back to it.
Most of the eating challenges you'll need to overcome as you age won't be unique. Consider discussing your issues with others in your community, especially seniors who cook for themselves or work through similar health problems.
Taking inspiration and encouragement from other elderly adults is a great first step to making meaningful dietary changes. Whether you swap recipes, go in on a grocery order, or schedule a potluck to taste new dishes, it's easier (and more fun!) to enjoy the spice of life when you're with those who care about you.