January Blog: No Matter Your Age, Maintain a Healthy Diet in 2014

A variety of conditions can make it more difficult for older adults to get the nutrition they need to most effectively maintain good health, ward off disease or manage chronic disease.

The sense of thirst diminishes over time, so seniors may not drink enough water. Because kidney function and the body’s fluid reserves decline with age, seniors are at greater risk of becoming dehydrated.

Dental problems or missing teeth may make to harder to chew, so seniors may not eat enough fiber, which is needed to help keep blood cholesterol levels in check and prevent constipation, a common complaint among older adults.

Vision difficulties can make it difficult to read nutrition information on labels and perform cooking tasks that were once easy.

Painful conditions such as arthritis complicate working a can opener or reaching food at the grocery store.

Medications can affect the sense of taste, so favorite foods are not as appealing as they used to be without adding salt. But because blood pressure tends to increase with age, it is particularly important for older adults to limit sodium intake.

Meal Planning for Seniors

Healthy eating does not have to be complicated. Leave fad diets, strict calorie counting and complicated eating programs to the younger crowd. Instead, focus on adding more fluids and nutrient-rich foods to your diet.

MyPlate for Older Adults is a guide to make healthy meal planning easier. Based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, MyPlate for Older Adults is geared to the special dietary needs of seniors. The concept is simple: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with fortified or whole grains, and the remaining quarter with lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. Limit unhealthy fats and salt—that’s it!

Key recommendations of the MyPlate senior eating plan include:

Choose fresh, frozen or canned produce that is deeply colored, such as berries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and kale.

When cooking, replace salt with spices. Don’t salt food at the table. If additional flavor is needed, try sprinkling food with lemon juice, which affects taste buds in the same way as salt.

Pick a variety of lean proteins including poultry and fish, and vegetable sources such as beans and tofu.

Eat at least three ounces of whole, enriched or fortified grain products every day to ensure you get adequate fiber.

Eat three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products fortified with vitamin D each day to help keep bones strong.

MyPlate’s formula to maintain a healthy weight is also simple: balance what you eat with physical activity. Avoiding extra weight can reduce your risk of developing serious health issues such as heart disease or diabetes. If you already have a chronic condition, maintaining a healthy weight can help you manage symptoms more effectively.

Food Safety for Seniors

Foodborne illnesses can affect people of all ages, but seniors are particularly susceptible. Even in healthy older adults, the immune and digestive systems grow weaker with age, making it harder to fight off a foodborne bug. Seniors with health problems such as diabetes or kidney disease are even more vulnerable.

These three safe food-handling basics help stop the germs that cause disease.

Clean: Wash your hands often. Keep kitchen surfaces clean. Rinse vegetables and fruits before preparing. Use a separate cutting board and knife for meat, poultry and seafood.

Cook: Heat foods thoroughly to kill harmful germs

Chill: Cold temperatures help keep bacteria from growing. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the countertop. Promptly refrigerate fresh foods and leftovers.

Did You Know?

While most people should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, older adults should consume less than 1,500.

The proportion of water to total body weight declines 8 percent in men and 6 percent in women after age 60.

While older adults need fewer calories to maintain their weight, their need for nutrients stays the same or even increases.