Eating well is important in every stage of life, but as we age, our food choices and eating habits become even more important. Studies show that a good diet later in life can significantly impact your health, and may lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancers.
So what, exactly, is considered a “good” diet?
Since eating well in our later years has such a measurable impact on our health as we age, understanding what constitutes a good diet is especially important for seniors who want to reduce their risk of disease and start improving their overall health. It’s never too late to think differently, change our habits, and start working towards achieving a healthy diet and lifestyle. In fact, a recent analysis of nearly 4,000 adults aged 65 or older proved this by linking a healthy diet to longevity among senior adults. The following five tips can help get you on the right track.
1. Change Your Shopping Habits
One of the key recommendations to come from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that we first need to focus on forming and consuming healthy eating pattern to have a good diet. And that starts with our behavior and buying habits at the grocery store. The next time you find yourself preparing a meal or grocery shopping for yourself or a senior loved one, remember to ask yourself: Does my plate or shopping cart contain the following?
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups (dark green, red and orange) and legumes (beans and peas)
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein sources, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds and soy products
2. Eat Nutrient-Dense Food
You may notice several of these items — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats — are considered nutrient-dense. Nutrient-dense foods contain relatively few calories but high amounts of fiber, natural vitamins, and minerals. One benefit for seniors consuming a nutrient-dense diet is the extra boost it provides the body for fighting off damaging free-radicals. Another benefit for seniors eating nutrient dense foods, according to a 2011 study published in the “Journal of the American Dietetics Association,” is the important role it plays in lowering the risk of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. The science here is overwhelming, very clear, and unambiguous: Eating nutrient-dense foods is critical in helping prevent and fight disease, and is considered central to forming a good diet.
3. Prepare and Eat Balanced Meals
Changing our habits at the store and purchasing nutrient-dense foods does little good if we don’t actually incorporate those foods into the meals we prepare at home. The National Institute on Aging recommends including a variety of foods from each food group in every meal. Doing so is critical to forming a good diet and creating healthy eating habits. A popular and fun way to do this is to paint your plate. The general idea here is that having each color represented on your plate increases the likelihood that your meal will contain the healthy mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are all so essential to our diet, but are often under-represented in it.
4. Pay Attention to Portion Sizes
Portion sizes have steadily and noticeably increased over the past 20 years, and with it, our waistlines have grown. Being in full control at the table and understanding the right amount to eat is powerful information. Overeating poses its own significant health risks and hazards, and is one reason the National Institute on Aging has provided clear guidance for seniors to help them better understand just how much is really necessary to eat during the day and for every meal. Each individual is unique, and each person has different caloric intake needs based on a myriad of factors. Understanding what yours are is absolutely critical to eating well and achieving a healthy diet.
5. Don’t Skip Meals
While overeating poses challenges to a good diet, so too does under-eating, or choosing to skip meals altogether. While skipping meals on the rare occasion may boost health, evidence clearly and overwhelmingly indicates that making a habit of skipping meals is extremely detrimental to one’s overall health. For example, skipping meals has been linked to profound negative changes in metabolism, and has also been linked as a heavy contributing factor to poor health. According to one study conducted by the American Heart Association, those who skipped breakfast ultimately carried a higher risk of experiencing heart disease, a heart attack, or even death. Here, the evidence is once again very clear: in forming a healthy, balanced diet, there is simply no room for over-eating or under-eating.
Eating Well as You Get Older
Having a good diet and placing greater focus on healthy eating as we age doesn’t need to be a struggle, and certainly shouldn’t be met with resistance. In fact, when we consider what a healthy diet for seniors really looks like, and thoughtfully apply that knowledge in the grocery store and at home in the kitchen, we find our menu has actually expanded, and that seemingly overnight, our meals have suddenly become more enticing, flavorful, and yes -- even healthy.
Holiday Retirement’s Holiday Home Cooking e-book has plenty of healthy recipe ideas if you’re unsure where to start.