Eating well and exercising regularly is an important priority at any age. As we get older, however, paying attention to diet and nutrition becomes even more crucial, both as a means of preventative medicine and ensuring quality of life.
According to the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging, an estimated one in four older Americans lacks proper nutrition. This leaves many seniors in a precarious place, as poor nutrition puts them at risk for excessive weight gain or loss, can weaken muscles and bones, and leaves seniors at risk to develop illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease. It can be difficult for some seniors to maintain a proper diet, especially if they are in and out of the hospital.
Nutritional needs will vary from person to person and should ultimately be informed by a medical professional. However, there are small lifestyle and dietary changes every senior can implement to improve their quality of life. In fact, by adopting a more healthy diet, seniors can help improve chronic health symptoms, enhance their overall health, and improve their mood and mental agility.
- Stock Up on Fruits and Vegetables
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for you, but according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that fruits and vegetables should make up half of your plate at every meal. Fruits and vegetables are full of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Additionally, they help to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain forms of cancer.
The ACND recommends a diet that includes 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. For many, this may seem like a lofty goal. But there are a number of creative ways you can meet these goals. Add salsa to your morning breakfast, snack on a fruit and veggie smoothie throughout the day, or add veggies to your pasta dish in the evening.
By spreading fruit and veggie intakes throughout the day, seniors and caretakers can easily meet ACND recommendations.
- Switch to Healthier Fats
Saturated fats and trans fats have the potential to raise your “bad cholesterol” level and elevate the risk of heart disease. By cutting back on animal-based products such as butter, bacon, and untrimmed meats, these unhealthy fats can be properly managed.
Eliminating or cutting bad fats from your diet can be as simple as switching from whole to fat-free milk or milk alternatives, eating turkey burgers rather than beef burgers, or altering the kind of peanut butter you use.
Of course, some fats are necessary to a healthy diet. Plant-based foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados contain healthy fats that enrich your diet by promoting cell growth and boosting your energy. Switching to healthier fats can help seniors properly manage diabetes, and promote heart health . The American Heart Association also recommends eating fish at a minimum of two times per week.
- Hydrate Often
Hydration is a key factor to healthy living. As you age, hydration is especially important, as your brain may not be as equipped to sense dehydration and send the signals that you need to consume more water.
If you’re having trouble remembering to drink water, create a schedule for yourself. For example, you can drink water when you wake up, at every meal throughout the day, and a glass before you go to sleep. Alternatively you can intake a small glass at the beginning of every hour.
- Bump Up Your Fiber Intake
Increasing your fiber intake is a dietary recommendation for people of all ages, and for good reason. A high fiber diet helps to reduce belly fat, increases energy, reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Fiber-rich foods (which include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans) work to increase digestion and can make you feel fuller longer.
Fiber is one of the easiest foods to add onto your normal routine. To increase your fiber intake, simply replace current grains with whole-grain breads, switch out white rice with a brown rice alternative, and switch out your pasta for a whole-wheat alternative. Additionally, you can add whole grain cereal to your yogurt, or add flaxseed to your salads.
Nutrition is a vital part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you age. For caretakers and seniors alike, subtle dietary adjustments can help increase brain activity, prevent chronic illness, and drastically improve mental health.
Danika McClure is a musician and writer from the Northwest who is passionate about social justice and education.