The food choices we make have a direct impact on our health. This is true for everyone, especially for older adults whose nutritional needs have changed with age.
Our goal with this blog is to provide health and safety topics to help older adults live their best life. To that end, we’ve compiled a guide to help you choose food that gives you energy, improves thinking and memory, and increases your enjoyment of life.
Focus on five nutritional groups
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) website, older adults need to consume food and liquids from five main nutrition groups on a daily basis in order to achieve and maintain health: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, and water.
First we’ll look at why each nutritional group is important and which foods contain specific nutrients. Later we’ll provide resources with ideas on how to identify and include the best choices from each nutrient group into daily eating habits.
Proteins help your body fight infection, build and repair tissues, and feel energized. Sources of protein include chicken, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, nut, seeds, and dairy products (low fat or no fat).
Carbohydrates, which provide most of the body’s energy, are either simple or complex. Healthy sources of simple carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk products and sugar and honey.
Complex carbohydrates include bread, cereal, pasta, rice, beans, peas, potatoes, green peas and corn. Fiber, a complex carbohydrate in plants, provides the added benefit of preventing stomach and intestinal problems, and may also help in reducing cholesterol and blood sugar. Fiber sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.
Fats are not all created equal. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy choices and may lower your chance of heart disease. For cooking, choose canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils. You can also find these healthy fats in avocados, peanut butter, walnuts, sunflower seeds, tuna, salmon and sardines.
Vitamins and Minerals are essential building blocks for a healthy body. The best way to get most or all vitamins and minerals is through food, which provides additional health benefits, such as fiber. Some older adults need to increase their intake of specific vitamins or minerals, such as calcium, which is vital for older adults at risk for bone loss. Your doctor and a simple blood test will help determine whether or not you need to boost intake of a specific nutrient.
According to the NIA, many older adults don’t need a complete multivitamin. However, for those who are not consistently eating a balanced diet, the NIA suggests a balanced supplement with 100 percent of recommended vitamins and minerals.
Water and other liquids are important to maintaining health. Water assists in digesting food, absorbing nutrients and ridding the body of waste. Because many older adults experience a reduction in their sense of thirst, it’s important to incorporate liquids, especially water, into your daily routine. You can supplement your water intake with other good liquid choices like unsweetened tea and low fat or fat-free milk.
A guide to making good choices
Tufts University offers MyPlate for Older Adults, which provides examples of wise food choices to promote health and reduce the likelihood of illness. It is based on the federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The Tufts online program includes information on the best choices for fruits and vegetables, cooking oils, liquids, protein, grains and dairy. A downloadable MyPlate illustration can be printed and used as a placemat to support wise food choices at home and at the restaurant.
The website also offers tips on grocery shopping, recipes, physical activity and salt alternatives.