While eating a healthy diet is a crucial facet of health for all people, it’s especially important for seniors. Continuing to lead an active lifestyle into your later years requires maintaining strength, coordination, and getting the proper nutrients to keep your mind fresh. Of course, as we age, our bodies change, which means that new habits and daily practices need to be introduced to maintain the highest level of health possible.
Here are a few simple tips to help seniors maintain a balanced diet to keep you feeling your best – for yourself and your loved ones.
ADD MORE PLANT-BASED FOODS
According to Mayo Clinic, adding more plant-based foods offers many health benefits ranging from reducing your risk of heart disease, lowering cholesterol, and keeping you at an optimal weight for your body type.
Mark H., national director of culinary operations at The Goodman Group, says that often seniors aren’t eating as many plant-based foods as they should be. “Plant-based foods like fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, and ancient grains tend to be missing from the diets of many seniors throughout the United States,“ he says.
This is especially true if they didn’t grow up eating many fruits and vegetables or they stick to the same recipes they’ve always made. “People tend to continue to eat the food they’ve always eaten,” Mark explains. “I always encourage seniors to experiment more with adding fresh vegetables into their favorite recipes.”
That could mean adding more fresh vegetables to a customary 'meat and potatoes' diet or even replacing elements of a meal with plant-based options. “If you often eat a serving of bacon at breakfast, try to swap in an apple instead,” he suggests. “Or add an afternoon snack of fresh green beans with hummus.”
INTRODUCE SUPERFOODS INTO YOUR CURRENT FAVORITE FOODS
According to Mark, seniors often benefit from shifting their meal planning to focus on adding nutrient-dense foods into what they already eat. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as prepared foods that contain nutritious ingredients. In recent years, these foods – like berries, dark leafy greens, and nuts, are commonly referred to as “superfoods” because they pack such a nutritional bang for your buck.
“That doesn’t mean you have to make radical changes in your diet,” Mark explains. “It can be as simple as adding food to food.” For example:
- Adding almonds or walnuts to homemade cookies
- Baking oatmeal bars with raisins, dates, or dried cranberries
- Adding shredded carrots, zucchini, or even beets to a favorite muffin recipe
Mark also recommends homemade foods whenever possible because you get to choose the ingredients. If that’s not convenient, you can still enhance prepared foods. For example, “Try adding tofu to canned soup for an extra boost of protein,” Mark says.
SWAP OUT SALT FOR FRESH HERBS
According to the National Institutes of Health’s Institution on Aging, as we age, our sense of taste and smell can gradually dull, causing us to lose the potency of different flavors and the pungency of certain aromas.
As a result, many seniors begin adding more and more salt to their food to achieve the level of flavor they previously enjoyed. However, too much salt in one’s food can cause short-term issues like severe thirst and bloating, as well as longer-term problems such as heart disease, strokes, and high blood pressure.
“Instead of salt, try becoming more familiar with and using different herbs,” Mark suggests. “If you have a senior loved one in your life, an indoor herb garden is a great gift idea for their birthday or another holiday. It’s a gift that is especially delightful coming from a grandchild. It’s attractive, fun to tend, and even encourages more at-home cooking.” As Mark puts it, it’s an “opportunity to bring excitement back to food.”
MAKE IT FUN TO STAY HYDRATED
The importance of staying hydrated cannot be stressed enough, especially for seniors. Dehydration can come on quickly for seniors, and because it causes issues with balance and coordination, it can even lead to senior falls.
Fortunately, you have options for staying hydrated beyond 'just drinking more water.' Mark recommends looking back to being a kid for ideas on how to make staying hydrated fun. “What did you like to eat when you were young?” he asks. “Try eating popsicles, Jello, and watermelon. They’ll all help maintain hydration.”
A senior diet is a delicate thing, but with diligence and a little help, most seniors can maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle through the food they consume.